Malaysian businesses expect economic pain long after lockdown lifts – dpa international

Lining up to enter a Kuala Lumpur shopping mall on May 4 2020 (Simon Roughneen)

KUALA LUMPUR — Malaysian business has been hammered by a lockdown imposed in mid-March to try contain the new coronavirus pandemic, according a government survey released on Friday. Some 42.5 per cent of the 4,094 companies canvassed by the Department of Statistics said they will need at least six months to recover from the restrictions, which until Monday required people to stay at home unless buying essentials or commuting to work. Only 27 per cent of businesses said they expect to recover within three months of the restrictions being lifted. With 67 per cent of the businesses reporting no sales or income during the lockdown, the same percentage said they needed tax relief to survive, with 83 per cent seeking subsidies. Malaysia’s retail sales fell 5.7 per cent to a seven year low in March, the department reported separately, with unemployment climbing 17 per cent year-on-year to reach 3.9 per cent. 

Singapore’s Covid-19 cases top 20,000 as pandemic batters business – dpa international

KUALA LUMPUR — Singapore confirmed 788 new coronavirus cases on Wednesday, taking the total to 20,198, the second-highest reported number in East Asia after China. The ministry stated that the “vast majority” of the new cases “are work permit holders residing in foreign worker dormitories.” Singapore has the world’s fourth-highest gross domestic product per head, according to an International Monetary Fund ranking, and depends on 1.4 million foreign workers – 320,000 of them living in cramped dormitories that have become virus hotbeds – to help run its open economy. Singapore diagnosed its first case of Covid-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, as far back as January 23. The wealthy and trade-dependent city-state was in March lauded for keeping case numbers relatively low, even as the pandemic spread around the world – with just 1,000 confirmed by April 1.

Singapore debates sale and slaughter of wild animals in wet markets – dpa international

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

KUALA LUMPUR — Singapore will consider banning selling and killing live animals in wet markets, the country’s environment minister told the legislature on Tuesday. The practice is common in parts of East and South-East Asia, but has come under scrutiny due to the possibility that the new coronavirus pandemic could have originated in a wet market in Wuhan, China – or in a nearby laboratory. In Asia, a wet market is typically a bustling open-air bazaar where freshly caught fish and meat and new vegetables are sold. Amy Khor, Minister of State for Environment and Water Resources, said that “international benchmarking and scientific evidence” would be used to determine the risk of transmission of dangerous viruses due to the practice.

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.

Singapore’s March sales slump hints at worse to come – dpa international

KUALA LUMPUR — Singapore’s retail sales fell by 13.3 per cent year-on-year in March, a sign that the new coronavirus pandemic was walloping the economy even before a government-imposed lockdown in April. The March sales slump in South-East Asia’s richest nation came on the back of a collapse in international travel, which typically brings visitors keen to splash out in Singapore’s array of plush malls. The Department of Statistics, which published the data on Tuesday, attributed the decline to “weaker domestic consumption and fewer tourist arrivals as a result of the Covid-19 outbreak.”

Malaysians cautiously embrace partial lifting of lockdown – dpa international

Customers lining up at a mobile phone shop inside a Kuala Lumpur mall on May 4 2020 (Simon Roughneen)

KUALA LUMPUR — After seven weeks of being told by authorities to stay at home, Malaysians tentatively resumed some aspects of pre-coronavirus life on Monday. The part re-opening came after a weekend of nationwide debate about whether the removal of some lockdown restrictions in South-East Asia’s third-wealthiest economy was premature due to health concerns, or was overdue because businesses are suffering. In Kuala Lumpur, a usually heaving high-rise city of 8 million people, Monday’s morning’s downtown traffic and footfall were light compared to pre-lockdown levels. Ng Chee Lim, a taxi driver, said he was glad the restrictions had been loosened, adding: “I think the situation is under control, and we need to get the economy going again.”

Malaysia to loosen Covid-19 lockdown curbs, PM says in May Day speech – dpa international

Barista at work in Kuala Lumpur café during Malaysia's lockdown (Simon Roughneen)

KUALA LUMPUR — Starting May 4, Malaysia will wind back restrictions aimed at stemming the spread of the new coronavirus, Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin said on Friday. Acknowledging that curbs imposed since mid-March were hurting commerce, Muhyiddin said during a Labour Day speech that “we must find ways to balance between healing the nation’s economy and addressing Covid-19.” A total of 6,002 people in Malaysia have contracted Covid-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, with 102 people dying in thr country and more than 230,000 people globally. Almost 70 per cent of people who tested positive in Malaysia have recovered, according to Ministry of Health data, with new case numbers dropping to an average of 57 a day over the past 10 days.

Pandemic pummels Malaysia’s vital but controversial palm oil trade – dpa international

A handful of people outdoors in Kuala Lumpur during Malaysia's lockdown (Simon Roughneen)

KUALA LUMPUR — Palm oil exports from Malaysia, the world’s second-biggest supplier, dropped by 41.7 per cent year-on-year during the month up to April 14, Plantation Industries and Commodities Minister Khairuddin Aman Razali said on Thursday. The month coincided with the imposition of a lockdown aimed at stemming the coronavirus outbreak, which has killed 102 people and resulted in 6,002 infections in the country. Malaysia is expected to suffer a 2 per cent fall in GDP in 2020 due to the virus. The lockdown, which has run since March 18, has forced many businesses to close, though the palm oil sector is operating. A vital export commodity, palm oil and related products made up 3.9 per cent of Malaysia’s total goods sold overseas in 2019.

Covid-19 spurs Singapore’s biggest unemployment jump since SARS – dpa international

Burmese migrant workers in Singapore's Peninsular Plaza, a popular meeting point for workers from Myanmar who live in the city-state (Simon Roughneen)

KUALA LUMPUR — Pandemic-stricken Singapore has seen its steepest drop in employment since the Severe Acute Respiratory System (SARS) outbreak of 2002-3. On Wednesday, the Ministry of Manpower announced that 19,900 jobs were shed during the first quarter of 2020, many of them in “consumer-facing food & beverage services and retail trade, and tourism-dependent accommodation,” which the ministry stated were among the sectors “most severely affected by the Covid-19 outbreak.” The job losses exceed those seen during the global financial crisis of 2008-9, when trade and investment-dependent Singapore was the first East or South-East Asian country to fall into recession. Singapore has the world’s fourth-highest gross domestic product per capita, according to International Monetary Fund rankings, and its overall unemployment rate remains a low 2.4 per cent.

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.