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.

Singapore to spend a fifth of GDP on curbing economic impact of virus – dpa international

KUALA LUMPUR — Singapore will spend an additional 33 billion Singapore dollars (23.2 billion US dollars) to offset the economic impact of coronavirus, Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat announced in parliament on Tuesday. The revised fiscal plan is the wealthy city-state’s fourth budget announcement since February and takes total spending pledges to just under 100 billion Singapore dollars – equivalent to almost 20 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP). Labelling the projected spending as a “fortitude budget,” Heng, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s deputy, said the outlay is necessary due to the “unprecedented uncertainty” caused by the pandemic. Earlier on Tuesday, Singapore’s Ministry of Trade and Industry said that GDP shrank 4.7 per cent in the first quarter of the year – indicating that the pandemic ravaged the trade-dependent economy even before the lockdown was imposed in April.

Singapore to allow transit flights from June 2 as restrictions eased – dpa international

Singapore harbour seen from Marina Bay, a popular vantage point for visitors (Simon Roughneen)

KUALA LUMPUR — Singapore will permit some international passengers to transit through Changi Airport from June 2 as restrictions to stem the spread of the coronavirus are gradually lifted. Singapore’s Civil Aviation Authority announced on Wednesday that the city-state aims to “gradually reopen air transport to meet the needs of our economy and our people, whilst ensuring sufficient safeguards for safe travel.” Changi Airport is a widely-used hub for travellers making their way to and from the Asia-Pacific region. Authorities closed two of its four terminals after international travel came to a standstill in the wake of the pandemic and Singapore’s ban on visitors and transit.

Demand for Singapore’s pharma output surges during pandemic – dpa international

Masks and sanitisers for sale in Kuala Lumpur (Simon Roughneen)

KUALA LUMPUR — A huge jump in sales of pharmaceuticals saw Singapore’s exports expand by 9.7 per cent year on year in April amid the coronavirus pandemic, though overall trade declined. Enterprise Singapore, a government agency, said that Singapore’s exports of pharmaceuticals to the European Union and Japan rose by 467 per cent and 864 per cent respectively compared to the same period a year ago. Dutch bank ING attributed Singapore’s April exports surge to the new coronavirus, saying on Monday that “the global pandemic has lifted pharmaceuticals to be the star-performer.” April was the third consecutive month in which Singapore’s exports grew. However most sectors – including electronics, which typically makes up around 30 per cent of exports – saw declines.

UN warns of surging meth use across Asia, despite Covid-19 – dpa international

KUALA LUMPUR — The market for synthetic drugs, including methamphetamine, continues to grow in Asia despite the coronavirus crisis, a UN report said. “While the world has shifted its attention to the Covid-19 pandemic, all indications are that production and trafficking of synthetic drugs and chemicals continue at record levels in the region,” said Jeremy Douglas of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). The findings, according to a new report by the agency, that relies on “data from 2019 and in some cases up to the first quarter of 2020,” are something of a surprise. “It is hard to imagine that organized crime have again managed to expand the drug market, but they have,” said Douglas, the agency’s Bangkok-based representative for Southeast Asia and the Pacific. Police in Bangkok arrested three men on Thursday while confiscating over a million meth pills, while recent weeks have seen Myanmar’s military and police in Hong Kong seizing drugs and manufacturing equipment in separate raids.

Singapore’s national airline records first-ever annual loss – dpa international

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KUALA LUMPUR — Singapore Airlines reported a net annual loss of 212 million Singapore dollars (149 million US dollars) for the year to March 31, the first time in the carrier’s 48-year history that it failed to earn an annual profit. The airline’s revenue was down nearly a billion dollars on 2019, when it posted a 683-million-dollar profit. The carrier put the reversal largely down to the impact of the new coronavirus pandemic – which halted most international travel even before Singapore’s government closed the country’s borders and imposed a lockdown on April 7. “Market conditions deteriorated abruptly in February,” Singapore Airlines noted in a statement. The airline signalled in March that it would be forced to temporarily ground 96 per cent of its capacity due to the pandemic.

Malaysia’s economy hit hard by coronavirus, even before lockdown – dpa international

Supermarket shelves being stocked during Malaysia's lockdown (Simon Roughneen)

KUALA LUMPUR — Malaysia’s economy contracted by 2 per cent in the first quarter of 2020 compared with the final quarter of 2019, according to official data released on Wednesday. The decline was attributed to the impact of the coranavirus pandemic, which spread from China, Malaysia’s biggest trade partner, in late 2019 and prompted South-East Asia’s third-largest economy to impose a strict lockdown on March 18. “Our exports to China have (dropped sharply) since the beginning January 2020,” said Mohd Uzir Mahidin, chief statistician at Department of Statistics, adding that the downturn has also affected the tourism industry. Malaysia’s economy grew between 4.5 per cent and 7.4 per cent a year from 2010 onwards, according to World Bank data. The quarterly decline announced on Wednesday brought year-on-year growth down to 0.7 per cent, the lowest since the 2008-9 global financial crisis.

Singapore shuts another airport terminal due to coronavirus – dpa international

KUALA LUMPUR — Citing “the sharp decline in flight movements because of the global Covid-19 pandemic,” Changi Airport in Singapore said on Tuesday that it will temporarily close its Terminal 4 from May 16. Flights from the hub will be restricted to Terminals 1 and 3 – as well as Jewel Changi Airport, effectively a fifth terminal. Airport authorities had earlier suspended use of Terminal 2. One of the world’s busiest airports and usually a busy waystation for travellers en route from the Asia-Pacific region to Europe, Changi was on Monday was voted “World’s Best Airport” for the eighth consecutive year in the Skytrax World Airport Awards.