UN warns of surging meth use across Asia, despite Covid-19 – dpa international

KUALA LUMPUR — The market for synthetic drugs, including methamphetamine, continues to grow in Asia despite the coronavirus crisis, a UN report said. “While the world has shifted its attention to the Covid-19 pandemic, all indications are that production and trafficking of synthetic drugs and chemicals continue at record levels in the region,” said Jeremy Douglas of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). The findings, according to a new report by the agency, that relies on “data from 2019 and in some cases up to the first quarter of 2020,” are something of a surprise. “It is hard to imagine that organized crime have again managed to expand the drug market, but they have,” said Douglas, the agency’s Bangkok-based representative for Southeast Asia and the Pacific. Police in Bangkok arrested three men on Thursday while confiscating over a million meth pills, while recent weeks have seen Myanmar’s military and police in Hong Kong seizing drugs and manufacturing equipment in separate raids.

Citing Covid-19, Pacific trade chiefs seek freer flow of vital goods – dpa international

Hand sanitiser and face masks for sale in a Kuala Lumpur supermarket (Simon Roughneen)

KUALA LUMPUR — Trade ministers representing 21 Asia-Pacific countries said on Tuesday that they “will work to facilitate the flow of essential goods and services” needed to fight the new coronavirus pandemic. The statement, released by the Singapore-based secretariat of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) body, listed “medicines, medical supplies and equipment, agriculture and food products” among those essential goods. APEC includes China, Japan and the US, the world’s three biggest economies. Other APEC members include Australia, Canada, Indonesia and South Korea, all of which have gross domestic products exceeding 1 trillion dollars. Tuesday’s statement marks a rare apparent consensus between China and the US, which have been embroiled in a trade war since shortly after Donald Trump became president in early 2017.

Coronavirus and travel restrictions set to ravage Asia’s airlines – dpa international

KUALA LUMPUR — An industry body representing nearly 300 airlines warned on Friday that carriers in the Asia-Pacific region could see business drop by half this year due to the coronavirus pandemic. The International Air Transport Association (IATA), which includes 290 airlines among its members, said on Friday that the sector faces a revenue drop of 113 billion dollars due to a pandemic that has killed an estimated 190,000 people worldwide. Airlines in the region face “a 50-per-cent fall in passenger demand in 2020 compared to 2019,” the IATA stated, warning of catastrophic knock-on impacts in related sectors. “11.2 million jobs are at risk, including those that are dependent on the aviation industry, such as travel and tourism,” according to Conrad Clifford, IATA’s Singapore-based Asia-Pacific vice-president.

APEC says states should cut tariffs on medical gear during pandemic – dpa international

Hand sanitiser dispenser inside a café in Kuala Lumpur (Simon Roughneen)

KUALA LUMPUR — The 21 member-states of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation body (APEC) should “consider the elimination or reduction” of tariffs on medical equipment needed to fight the new coronavirus pandemic, the group’s Singapore-based secretariat said on Wednesday. Warning of a “severe shortage” of “life-saving products” such as  face masks, hand soap, sanitizers and personal protective equipment (PPE), the secretariat said that its members – including China, Japan and the United States, the world’s three biggest economies – could agree to “an APEC-wide standstill.” According to the World Trade Organization (WTO), the average tariff on “protective supplies used in the fight against Covid-19” is 11.5 per cent.

Asia-Pacific region faces sharp recession due to Covid-19 – dpa international

Many Asian countries have been on lockdown for weeks, with exceptions made for essential services such as supermarkets (Simon Roughneen)

KUALA LUMPUR — Members of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec), a 21-country grouping that includes China, Japan and the United States, face collective economic losses of 2.1 trillion dollars in 2020 due to the new coronavirus pandemic. In a report published on Monday, the Singapore-based Apec Secretariat forecast that the region’s economies will shrink by 2.7 per cent this year due to the pandemic. The economic losses exceed the gross domestic products of Canada and South Korea, the fourth and fifth biggest economies in Apec, going by International Monetary Fund (IMF) country rankings. Apec member states account for around 40 per cent of the rouhgly 2.4 million cases of Covid-19, the disease caused by the virus.

Asia’s economic growth to halt for first time since 1960s – dpa international

Evening traffic in Kuala Lumpur before the pandemic (Simon Roughneen)

KUALA LUMPUR — The International Monetary Fund (IMF) believes Asia’s fast-growing economies will “come to a standstill” due to the coronavirus pandemic, faring worse than during the 2008-9 global financial crisis or the 1997-98 Asian crash. The region will experience zero growth for the first time since the 1960s, said Chang Yong Rhee, director of the IMF’s Asia and Pacific Department, who forecast that the economic impact of the pandemic will be “severe, across the board, and unprecedented.” Speaking during a press conference live-streamed from Washington, Rhee said Asia faces “a crisis like no other” due to the pandemic, which has killed over 136,000 people worldwide and prompted governments to impose lockdowns that have hampered commerce. “Containment measures are severely affecting economies,” Rhee said.

Covid-19 to slam the brakes on Asia’s high-octane economies – dpa international

Evening traffic in Kuala Lumpur before the pandemic (Simon Roughneen)

KUALA LUMPUR — Countries across East Asia and the Pacific face recession and rising poverty as economies grind to a halt due to the deadly coronavirus pandemic. In a report published on Tuesday, the World Bank warned that “significant economic pain seems unavoidable” across what was one of the world’s fastest-growing regions before the outbreak, which has killed almost 38,000 people worldwide. Though East Asia’s developing economies expanded at an estimated 5.8 per cent in 2019, some countries were already struggling with the knock-on effects of the China-United States trade war before the virus emerged in China in late 2019. Now, according to the bank, a possible 2.8 per cent region-wide contraction looms should a sustained pandemic force lengthy lockdowns and constrict business worldwide.

Singapore reports first coronavirus deaths as case numbers rise across Southeast Asia – dpa international

People wearing facemasks inside a Kuala Lumpur mall on March 17, the day before the start of an anti-virus lockdown (Simon Roughneen)

KUALA LUMPUR — Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong warned Singaporeans on Saturday to expect more deaths from the coronavirus outbreak after the city-state’s first fatalities were announced earlier in the day.

“As we get more COVID-19 cases, more patients will need ICU [intensive care unit] care, and we must brace ourselves for more losses,” Lee said in a Facebook post.

Earlier Health Minister Gan Kim Yong announced the deaths of a 75-year-old Singaporean woman and a 64-year-old Indonesian man who had been diagnosed with Covid-19, the respiratory disease caused by the new coronavirus. “We are deeply saddened by their passing,” Gan said, explaining that the woman had several medical conditions and was admitted to hospital a month ago with pneumonia.

Malaysia reports first deaths from Covid-19 as case numbers near 700 – dpa international

Woman selling sanitary masks in Kuala Lumpur on March 17 2020, the day before Malaysia goes into a two-week lockdown (Simon Roughneen)

KUALA LUMPUR — Malaysia reported its first deaths on Tuesday evening from Covid-19, the respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Local authorities in Sarawak on the Malaysian part of island of Borneo said that a 60-year-old pastor died in hospital in Kuching, the regional capital. Some 193 close contacts of the deceased have been put under home quarantine, the Sarawak State Secretariat Disaster Committee stated, though the source of the dead man’s infection is unknown. By evening the national Health Ministry announced a second fatality – a 34-year-old male who was among an estimated 15,000-16,000 people who attended an Islamic ceremony held on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur at the end of last month.

Coronavirus means Ash Wednesday restrictions for Asia’s Catholics – dpa international

KUALA LUMPUR — Catholics in Southeast Asia will have to do without one of their most recognizable motifs due to the coronavirus outbreak. On February 26, the Christian holy day of Ash Wednesday this year, Catholics in Malaysia and the Philippines will have dry ash sprinkled onto their heads instead of the usual smearing of a damp grey-black ash cross. Archbishop Romulo Valles, president of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines, stated that the measures were motivated by “our concern for the well-being of our brothers and sisters” and the taking of the “utmost care and efforts towards the prevention of the spread of COVID-19.” The virus that has spread to around two dozen countries, has killed over 2,200 people, mostly in China, where the pandemic originated.