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.

Malaysia to impose lockdown after coronavirus case numbers swell – dpa international

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KUALA LUMPUR — Responding to a surge in coronavirus cases over the past week, the Malaysian Government has ordered sweeping travel restrictions, ordered most business except for shops to close, and banned foreigners from entering the country until the end of the month. In a 10pm address to the nation, Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin said that the lockdown, which includes closing mosques across the Muslim-majority country, would apply from March 18-31, during which Malaysians will not be permitted to travel abroad. “The current situation of the outbreak requires drastic action to be taken to recover the situation as soon as possible,” Muhyiddin warned, adding that essential government services and banks will remain open. Malaysia reported 125 new cases of coronavirus on Monday evening, taking the country’s total to 553, 338 of which have been traced to an Islamic ceremony held in Kuala Lumpur’s outskirts in late February that was attended by an estimated 15-16,000 people and which spawned cases among worshippers from Brunei, Cambodia and Singapore. 

Malaysia’s coronavirus cases nearly double as Singapore adds new travel curbs – dpa interntional

Sign on a doorway at Kuala Lumpur pharmacy (Simon Roughneen)

KUALA LUMPUR —  Malaysia’s Health Ministry declared a near-doubling of its confirmed cases of coronavirus, recording a jump of 190 positive diagnoses for a region-high total of 428 as of Sunday evening. The ministry stated that “most of the new cases” are linked to an Islamic ceremony held in Kuala Lumpur’s outskirts in late February that was attended by an estimated 15,000 people. Cases linked to the event first emerged in Brunei last week and then in Singapore, which as of Saturday night had reported 212 cases of coronavirus. The three countries’ health ministries have appealed for people who attended the event to come forward for testing and to provide information about contacts and travel. Sunday’s surge in coronavirus cases in Malaysia was by far the biggest daily increase seen across the 10-country Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) since the outbreak began.

Malaysia bans mass gatherings, Singapore curbs travel from virus-hit Europe – dpa international

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 — As Malaysia’s coronavirus caseload neared 200, Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin announced in a televised speech on Friday night that all mass gatherings will be cancelled until the end of April. This includes international meetings as well as religious and sporting events, Muhyiddin said, adding that gross domestic product had contracted between 0.8 and 1.2 per cent since the coronavirus outbreak began in China, Malaysia’s biggest trade partner. As Muhyiddin was addressing the nation, the country’s Health Ministry confirmed 39 new coronavirus cases, bringing the total to 197.

Singapore hotel going ahead with durian festival – dpa international

Durian for sale in Singapore (Simon Roughneen)

JAKARTA — An annual “Durian Fiesta” in Singapore will proceed as planned this year, despite 178 cases of the potentially-deadly coronavirus in the island city-state. The event starts on March 14 and will celebrate the Southeast Asian favourite, which proponents extol as “the king of fruits.” But wiill visitors brave the risk of infection for this of all fruits, given its odour elsewhere described – in some of the more polite terms – as akin to rotting flesh, sweat-laced clothes and festering garbage. The Goodwood Park Hotel organizing the event, running between March and July, concedes that the durian, with its spiky green husk and creamy texture, is “an acquired taste.”

Cruise ship barred by Malaysia and Thailand over coronavirus to dock in Singapore – dpa international

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JAKARTA – The Maritime and Port Authority (MPA) of Singapore said that the Costa Fortuna cruise vessel will dock at the city-state on March 10. The ship, which is carrying over 2,000 passengers, including 64 Italians, was refused entry to Phuket in Thailand and Penang in Malaysia over concerns about coronavirus, as the number of cases in Italy surged. The MPA and the Singapore Tourism Board said that the ship’s passengers, who departed Singapore on March 3, could disembark as they had “completed pre-embarkation checks based on prevailing policies for travel history and temperature screening as required by the cruise line and the terminal operator prior to boarding.” 

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.

Singapore minister cannot mask scorn for coronavirus panic-buyers – dpa international

KUALA LUMPUR — Leaked audio has emerged of Singaporean Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing criticizing not only his fellow citizens for hoarding but Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam for wearing a medical mask while holding at a press conference. The source of the audio is unknown, but appears to be a recording of a closed-door meeting last week at the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry. The recording, which has been widely shared on Singaporean social media, features Chan claiming that the sight of the mask-clad Hong Kong leader Lam prompted panic-buying in Hong Kong. If Singaporean officials had emulated Lam, Chan said, “our hospital system would have broken down” as there would be “no more masks.”

Singapore to spend over 4bn dollars to dampen coronavirus impact – dpa international

KUALA LUMPUR — Singapore announced its 2020 budget on Tuesday, pledging 5.6 billion Singapore dollars (4.02 billion US dollars) to assist businesses and households affected financially by the coronavirus outbreak. Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat announced the measures in Singapore’s parliament, where he said another 800 million Singapore dollars will be allocated to support “frontline agencies” that are fighting coronavirus in the city-state, where 77 cases have been confirmed.  Heng warned that “the outbreak will certainly impact our economy” and said that inbound tourism and air traffic had already dropped as Chinese outbound tourism plummets. Singapore Airlines announced on Tuesday that it was temporarily reducing flights “due to weak demand as a result of the Covid-19 outbreak.”

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.”