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.

Southeast Asia’s “jaw-dropping” wildlife trade a concern as virus outbreak continues – dpa international

Frogs for sale in a Singapore wet market (Simon Roughneen)

KUALA LUMPUR — Newly compiled statistics published by TRAFFIC, a wildlife trade monitoring network, show that more than 200 tons of African elephant ivory and almost a million pangolins have been trafficked through South-east Asia since the turn of the century. “Not a day goes by without a wildlife seizure taking place in South-east Asia, and all too often in volumes that are jaw-dropping,” said Kanitha Krishnasamy TRAFFIC’s Southeast Asia director. The trade in wildlife across Asia has come under increased scrutiny in recent weeks due to the deadly coronavirus outbreak, amid speculation that the virus – which has killed more than 2,000 people – originated in a central China wet market where wild animals were sold and eaten. “llegal wildlife trade will always provide opportunities for viruses to jump from wildlife to people,” TRAFFIC’s senior communications officer Elizabeth John said.

Malaysians tagged as Asia’s worst plastic polluters – dpa international

Plastic packaging in a Kuala Lumpur mall (Simon Roughneen)

KUALA LUMPUR — A report published on Monday listed Malaysians as the biggest per capita users of plastic packaging in a region responsible for more than half the plastic litter in the world’s oceans. The report by the World Wide Fund For Nature (WWF) covers China, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam, which together account for “around 60 per cent of plastic debris entering the ocean.” The average Malaysian uses 16.78 kilograms of plastic packaging each year, according to WWF estimates, with Thailand next at 15.52 kg per person per annum. “Rapid economic growth has led to an immense increase in the use of plastic, especially for packaging consumer goods,” the WWF stated, linking plastic use with rising affluence across the region.

Southeast Asia’s economies not immune to coronavirus contagion – dpa international

JAKARTA — In the latest warning that coronavirus could stall economic growth across Asia, Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Friday that the city-state “could take a hit” with recession “possible” this year. Speaking during a visit to Singapore’s Changi Airport, Lee said the economic impact of the disease known as Covid-19 will likely top that of the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). In 2003, the outbreak resulted in reduced commerce and travel across Asia and saw Singapore’s wealthy, trade-based economy shrink by 0.3 per cent during the second quarter. Lee warned on Friday that although Singapore was free of SARS within four months, the timetable for coronavirus “may not be so fast.”

Southeast Asia most vulnerable to coronavirus spread – Licas News

With concerns growing about the possible spread of Novel Coronavirus, facemasks are an increasingly-common sight in cities such as Kuala Lumpur (Simon Roughneen)

KUALA LUMPUR — Southeast Asia is the region most vulnerable to the new coronavirus outbreak, which has killed 170 people in China and infected almost 8,000 since the turn of the year. Several dozen cases of the virus have been reported across the region, with 14 confirmed in Thailand — the most of any country outside of China — as of Jan. 28.  By Jan. 30, 10 cases were reported in Singapore. Hundreds more people are under medical observation or in quarantine, pending confirmation of infection or a disappearance of symptoms. The number of cases in Malaysia rose to eight on Jan. 30. “It looks like the volume of airline travelers from cities in mainland China are highly correlated with the number of cases reported in affected countries,” said Shengjie Lai of the University of Southampton, co-author of an analysis of travel trends within and from China which aims to predict what places might be most at risk of further outbreak.  Of the 30 most exposed cities outside China, 14 are in Southeast Asia, with Bangkok facing the highest risk globally. Singapore, Phuket, and Kuala Lumpur are among the 10 cities most at risk. Seven of the 14 countries deemed most vulnerable are in Southeast Asia, according to the study, which was published on Jan. 28.

Southeast Asia remains an investment magnet as Singapore gains from Hong Kong’s troubles – The Interpreter/CNA

KUALA LUMPUR — Despite more than a year of tit-for-tat tariffs in the US-China trade war and anxiety about its cost to the world economy, foreign direct investment into Southeast Asia continued to grow strongly last year, even as global levels flatlined. Newly-published estimates from the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) suggest that, out of a global FDI spend of US $1.39 trillion in 2019, member-states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations received $177 billion, breaking the region’s 2018 record of $155 billion. While Southeast Asia’s 2019 total was substantially less than European Union’s $305 billion or the United States’ $251 billion, its inward FDI is increasing while the EU’s dropped 15% and the US’s stayed the much the same. 

Indonesia sends warships to drive off Chinese boats – The Times

Indonesian President Joko Widodo in Nusa Dua on the Indonesian island of Bali in October 2018. Photo: Simon Roughneen

KUALA LUMPUR — Indonesia has sent an armada of warships and fishermen to waters around its northern Natuna Islands in response to recent incursions by dozens of Chinese fishing boats and coastguard ships. China’s sweeping claim to most of the South China Sea overlaps with Indonesian waters around the Natunas, with the latest flare-up prompting the usually soft-spoken Indonesian President Joko Widodo to bluntly assert that “Natuna is Indonesia” during a visit to the contested region last week. Beijing’s claim to the South China Sea, through which between US$3-5 billion worth of trade passes most years, extends 2000 kilometers from the Chinese mainland and has angered neighbouring countries, particularly Vietnam and the Philippines, whose own smaller claims around the sea overlap with Beijing’s.