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.

Over 1,100 lockdown arrests as Malaysian coronavirus cases top 2,600 – dpa international

Food delivery motorcycles are about the most commonly-seen traffic in Kuala Lumpur during the virus lockdown (Simon Roughneen)

KUALA LUMPUR — Malaysia has arrested at least 1,100 people for violating a lockdown aimed at curbing a recent spike in coronavirus cases to 2,626, the highest reported national total in Southeast Asia. During a Monday press conference streamed via Facebook, Defence Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob said that 828 people were detained on Sunday for breaching movement restrictions imposed on March 18. Police had earlier announced over 300 arrests for alleged violations such as jogging and playing football. One suspect, a 61-year-old cardiologist, told police that running should be permitted for health reasons. A video of the encounter went viral on Malaysian social media last week ahad of the accused pleading not guilty in court on Monday. Giving notice of further restrictions aimed at halting the spread of Covid-19, the respiratory disease caused by the new coronavirus pandemic that has killed almost 35,000 worldwide, Ismail said Malaysia’s shops will reduce operating hours from Wednesday “All supermarkets or any premises selling essential items shall observe the new operation hours, which is from 8am to 8pm,” the minister said. 

Malaysia to try counter virus impact with huge 58bn-dollar stimulus – dpa international

Beggars on otherwise near-empty streets during lockdown in Kuala Lumpur (Simon Roughneen)

KUALA LUMPUR — Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin said on Friday that Malaysia aims to spend 250 billion ringgit (58.2 billion US dollars) to counter the health and economic impacts of the coronavirus pandemic. Speaking on national television, Muhyiddin said the “people’s economic stimulus package will benefit everyone.” With the economy at a standstill since a lockdown was imposed by the government on March 18, the prime minister pledged around a third of the funds to support hard-pressed businesses and promised one-off cash payouts to a range of groups, including unmarried low-income earners, pensioners and bottom-tier civil servants. A recent dip in prices for export commodities such as palm oil could leave Malaysia hard-pressed find the money to pay for its mammoth stimulus, which equates to just under a sixth of the country’s estimated 370-billion-dollar gross domestic product (GDP).

Singapore to spend 38 billion dollars as pandemic pummels economy – dpa international

KUALA LUMPUR — Singapore’s Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat proposes spending up to 55 billion Singapore dollars (38 billion US dollars) to cushion the wealthy city-state against a looming recession triggered by coronavirus. “As an open economy, we will be deeply impacted by these global shocks,” Heng, who doubles up as Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s deputy, told parliament on Thursday afternoon. Announcing what he termed a “resilience budget,” Heng projected that Singapore could spend up to 11 per cent of its gross domestic product to counter what he said could be “a recession at least as bad as the global financial crisis.” Singapore, which has the world’s fourth-highest GDP per capita according to International Monetary Fund (IMF) rankings, will spend over 11 billion dollars of its estimated hundreds of billions of dollars in reserves, Heng said. 

Singapore ramps up virus testing and tracing, cautions pubs ahead of shutdown – dpa international

Mount Elizabeth Medical Center in Singapore, destination for medical tourists from around Asia (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

KUALA LUMPUR — Police will patrol Singapore’s bars and nightclubs staging “farewell” events on Wednesday night, ahead of a government-enforced shutdown due to coronavirus. A joint statement on Wednesday by Singapore’s police, Tourism Ministry and enterprise board warned that attendance must be limited to 250 people. Organizers must “reduce mingling amongst participants” by keeping people “at least a metre” apart, the statement read, as Singaporeans took to social media to accuse the various venues of irresponsibility and recklessness. After a recent jump of Covid-19 cases, the lung disease caused by the new coronavirus, Singapore announced on Tuesday that “entertainment venues” such as bars, cinemas, discos and theatres would have to close from March 26 until April 30.

Producers say Malaysia’s lockdown could cause medical gloves shortage – dpa international

Inside a Kuala Lumpur shopping mall during Malaysia's anti-virus lockdown (Simon Roughneen)

KUALA LUMPUR — Manufacturers in Malaysia, the world’s biggest source of rubber gloves, warned on Monday that a government-imposed lockdown could result in a worldwide shortage of the protective equipment needed in combatting the coronavirus pandemic. The government has put the country under lockdown until the end of the month, forcing most businesses to close except for “essential” services. However the Malaysian Rubber Glove Manufacturers Association (MARGMA), an industry body, said its members have been forced by the lockdown to operate at half their usual capacity. The restrictions, the association said, have “led to a shortfall of gloves around the world,” prompting the group to urge the Malaysian government “to allow the rubber glove industry to operate at 100 per cent so that we can meet the surge in demand for rubber gloves from many parts of the world.”

Singapore’s schools reopen despite pandemic, bucking global trend – dpa international

KUALA LUMPUR — Singapore’s schools and kindergartens reopened as scheduled on Monday after a holiday, a day after the government announced a ban on visitors due to the pandemic. The reopening comes as the number of cases of Covid-19, the disease caused by the virus, continues to increase in Singapore, with 32 new cases announced on Sunday for a total of 455. Two people have died. That number is relatively low compared with countries in Europe, the pandemic’s “epicentre” according to the World Health Organization, where widespread school closures have been ordered in recent weeks

Coronavirus forces trade and travel hub Singapore to close borders – dpa international

The Gardens By The Bay are one of Singapore's main tourist attractions (Simon Roughneen)

KUALA LUMPUR — A ban on tourists announced by Singapore on Sunday is the latest in a series of border closures aimed at stopping a coronavirus pandemic that looks set to send the global economy into a tailspin. Citing a “heightened risk of importation of Covid-19 cases,” the Health Ministry stated that the only non-nationals allowed in from 11:59 pm (1559 GMT) on Monday will be work permit holders in “essential sectors” such as health care. The ministry said that 80 per cent of the city-state’s recently confirmed cases were “imported,” with around half coming from Europe, the “epicentre” of the pandemic, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). The spike in imported cases mirrors recent trends across Asia, with China, Hong Kong and Vietnam among the countries reporting such rises.

Calm and consternation coincide in Malaysia’s anti-virus shutdown – dpa international

Food delivery couriers - such as this one stopping in the shade of Kuala Lumpur's Petronas Towers - were busy around Kuala Lumpur on Wedneday with restaurants are limited to takeaway or delivery and citizens urged to stay at home during Malaysia's part-lockdown (Simon Roughneen)

KUALA LUMPUR — An uncanny hush hung over the usually bustling streets of Kuala Lumpur on Wednesday as Malaysia began a two-week partial lockdown aimed at reversing an alarming recent surge in coronavirus cases to nearly 800. “Sometimes it takes an hour, now the streets are nearly empty,” said Roslee Mohamad, who had just parked after a short drive between two downtown shopping malls in Malaysia’s commercial capital. The government’s measures, announced Monday night and in effect until March 31, include the banning of foreign visitors and the shuttering of most businesses except for “essential services.” Inside Pavilion, one of the city’s swankiest malls, most shops were closed except for grocery stores and pharmacies, while customers are barred from dining in restaurants. “We are just open for takeaway,” said Janet Unite, cashier at a cafe inside the mall.

Malaysia’s rubber gloves makers say ready to meet coronavirus needs – dpa international

Gloves being worn at Kuala Lumpur supermarket on March 17 2020, the day before the national lockdown due to coronavirus (Simon Roughneen)

KUALA LUMPUR – Malaysia’s rubber gloves manufacturers say they are gearing up to meet growing global demand for surgical and medical gloves spurred by the coronavirus pandemic and have appealed to the government not to curtail their operations during a partial lockdown scheduled to run from Wednesday until the end of March. “We shall re-strategize to ensure supply is adequate, at least to those severely affected areas,” said Denis Low, president of the Malaysian Rubber Glove Manufacturers Association (MARGMA), an industry association, in a Tuesday statement. Malaysia, the world’s biggest supplier of rubber gloves, has seen 673 confirmed cases of coronavirus and two deaths. A recent spike in cases prompted the government to state that most businesses – except shops like grocery and corner stores – would be forced to lock up during the lockdown.