Singapore team develops one-minute coronavirus test – dpa international

DUBLIN — Mention of a breathalyzer typically evokes images of a bedraggled five o’clock shadow peering bloodshot-eyed through a driver’s window after being pulled over by police. That could change if a new test for the novel coronavirus gets a second wind after successful first-round trials.. According to a Tuesday statement by the National University of Singapore (NUS), the device, which resembles a drink-driving breathalyzer, generates a result in around 60 seconds. The outcomes, which NUS reports as having proven 90 per cent accurate among the 180 people tested, “are generated in real-time” by analysis of “Volatile Organic Compounds” in a person’s breath. Jia Zhunan, doctor and chief executive officer of NUS spin-off company Breathonix, said the test is “is easy to administer,” needing neither trained staff nor laboratory processing.

London trial starts for four accused in deadly migrant smuggling plot – dpa international

DUBLIN — A lorry container became a “tomb” for 39 Vietnamese migrants who suffocated while being smuggled into Britain in 2019, a jury at the Central Criminal Court of England and Wales was told on Wednesday. “Obviously, any time you fill an airtight container with a large number of people, where they will be left for hours and hours … it is fraught with danger,” said prosecution lawyer Bill Emlyn Jones. British resident Gheorghe Nica and Irish lorry driver Eamonn Harrison face 39 counts of manslaughter and one count of conspiracy to assist illegal immigration. Valentin Calota, also listed as a British resident, and Christopher Kennedy, from Northern Ireland, face the latter charge, to which Nica pleaded guilty ahead of the trial. The 39 bodies were discovered in the container after it was parked in an industrial estate in Essex in October 2019. The container had been taken by road from Dunkirk in France to Zeebrugge in Belgium, from where it was put on a Britain-bound ferry.

Under-fire Chinese app TikTok to set up European hub in Ireland – dpa international

DUBLIN — Video-sharing app TikTok will invest 420 million euros (500 million dollars) in a European data storage centre in Ireland, the company announced on Thursday. The proposed hub will house European user data, according to Roland Cloutier, TikTok’s global chief information security officer, who said the move will strengthen “safeguarding and protection of TikTok user data” in a “state of the art physical and network security defence system.” Cloutier said “hundreds” of jobs will be created – an announcement welcomed by IDA Ireland, the state investment promotion agency, as “good news.” IDA Ireland Chief Executive Officer Martin Shanahan said IikTok’s statement “postions Ireland as an important location in the company’s global operations.” Banned in China, US online giants Facebook, Google and Twitter have substantial operations in low-tax Ireland.

Singapore PM warns of impact on Asia of US-China power rivalry – dpa international

KUALA LUMPUR — Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong fears rising tensions between the US and China could undermine security and economic growth across Asia and called on both sides to pull back from confrontation. Lee flagged his concerns in an article titled “The Endangered Asian Century” published  in the US journal Foreign Affairs, which has a history of running watershed essays by policymakers involved international relations.Fearing that smaller Asian countries could be forced to take sides if intransigence grows between the world’s two biggest economies, Lee called for cooperation between the US and China, even as tensions rise over the coronavirus pandemic, trade, the disputed South China Sea, Taiwan and Hong Kong. “The two powers must work out a modus vivendi that will be competitive in some areas without allowing rivalry to poison cooperation in others,” Lee implored.

Pandemic and lockdown sink Malaysia’s exports to lowest in a decade – dpa international

Social distancing rules applied on public transport in Kuala Lumpur (Simon Roughneen)

KUALA LUMPUR — Malaysia’s exports dropped 23.8 per cent year-on-year in April, the biggest fall for South-East Asia’s third richest economy since the height of the global financial crisis more than 10 years ago. The government’s chief statistician Mohd Uzir Mahidin said on Thursday that April exports tallied “the largest decline since September 2009,” a slump he put down to Malaysia’s economy largely closing from March 18 to May 4 during a strictly-enforced lockdown aimed at stemming a rise in new coronavirus cases. Malaysia’s total trade for April fell 16.4 per cent, which the Ministry for Trade and Industry said was due to “major disruptions to global supply chain” caused by the pandemic. Key sectors such as oil and liquefied natural gas shrank by over 20 per cent each as global demand receded and prices fell. Also down by a fifth were electrical and electronics exports, hit hard by disruptions to global supply chains.

Singapore sees record business slump in May due to pandemic – dpa international

Singapore skyline over Marina Bay (Simon Roughneen)

KUALA LUMPUR — Commerce in Singapore hit a new low in May due to the coronavirus pandemic and worldwide lockdowns, going by a widely-cited business yardstick published on Wednesday. The IHS Markit Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) – based on a survey of 400 businesses about new orders, output, employment, suppliers’ delivery times and stocks of purchases – dropped to 27.1 during May. Any reading below 50 suggests economic contraction.  IHS Markit said that the decline was because “demand for goods and services plummeted at an unprecedented rate” due to the pandemic. The impact of a lockdown that ran from April 7 until Tuesday saw new orders collapse in May – when “firms remained firmly in retrenchment mode, reducing staff numbers and input purchasing.”

Claims of Saudi donations resurface in ex-Malaysian PM’s graft trial – dpa international

Former Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak arriving at Kuala Lumpur High Court on February 10 2020 for one of his ongoing corruption trials (Simon Roughneen)

KUALA LUMPUR — Allegations of lavish contributions from Saudi Arabia re-emerged on Wednesday during one of former Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak’s ongoing trials over alleged theft of public money and related abuses of office. When lurid corruption claims were first levelled against Najib Razak in 2015, the then-prime minister said the largesse involved, said to be around 700 million dollars, was donated from the world’s biggest oil producer. In court in Kuala Lumpur on Wednesday, Najib’s defence team said that letters purportedly from Saudi royals meant Najib had no reasonable cause to question the source of money flowing into his bank account. The missives, the defence said, were shown to Malaysia’s central bank and anti-corruption commission before representatives of the latter travelled to Saudi Arabia to discuss the matter with several princes.”If the letters were not genuine, there would have been denial on the spot,” said defence lawyer Harvinderjit Singh, who added that he was not claiming the donations took place.

Singapore ends two-month virus lockdown, though some curbs remain – dpa international

KUALA LUMPUR — Singapore on Tuesday began allowing activities that “do not pose high risk of transmission” to resume after two months of lockdown, despite reporting the second-highest number of coronavirus cases in East Asia. Some offices and factories resumed operations, children went back to school, while places of worship began to open their doors.  Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Monday that the relaxation will likely prove “a big relief to all” but one that is “certainly not without its risks.” The wealthy city-state, an investment and trade hub whose seaport and airport rank among the world’s busiest, has diagnosed 35,292 cases of the new coronavirus, more than any country in East or South-East Asia except for China. Most of the cases are among foreign migrants confined to dormitories, though the related death toll, at 24, is one of the world’s lowest.

A month after lockdown ends, Malaysia slowly getting back to normal – dpa international

Not many people around in this central Kuala Lumpur mall, more than three weeks after the end of Malaysia's lockdown (Simon Roughneen)

KUALA LUMPUR — Business and consumer activity in South-East Asia’s third-wealthiest economy is inching back towards pre-pandemic levels, going by data published almost a month after the end of a strictly-enforced lockdown. Monday’s IHS Markit Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI), a widely cited survey of businesses, showed manufacturing rising in May after a record low in April, when Malaysia was in lockdown. According to IHS Markit, the May rebound in business activity came “amid reports that some firms had restarted production following a partial lifting of lockdown rules.” However, the PMI survey showed the May bounce-back as “indicative of a further deterioration in manufacturing sector conditions” – as overall performance remained below the 50 mark, which Malaysia last hit in January. If the PMI reads below 50, it suggests businesses are cutting back.

Singapore and China to reopen some travel in June – dpa international

KUALA LUMPUR — A “fast lane” for business and “essential” travel between Singapore and China will open next week, allowing some flights to resume between the two countries after a four-month hiatus due to the coronavirus pandemic, according to officials. A Singapore Foreign Ministry statement released late Friday said that travel will initially be allowed between Singapore and six Chinese cities and regions, including Shanghai and Guangdong. Though the two countries have reported the most coronavirus cases in East Asia, Singapore believes “the prevention and control of Covid-19 and the economic and social recovery” in both to have “entered a new phase.” While the majority of China’s 84,160 reported coronavirus cases were diagnosed early in the year – after the virus first emerged in the Chinese city of Wuhan before spreading around the world – Singapore’s caseload has increased 33-fold since April 1, with thousands of foreign workers infected.