APEC says states should cut tariffs on medical gear during pandemic – dpa international

Hand sanitiser dispenser inside a café in Kuala Lumpur (Simon Roughneen)

KUALA LUMPUR — The 21 member-states of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation body (APEC) should “consider the elimination or reduction” of tariffs on medical equipment needed to fight the new coronavirus pandemic, the group’s Singapore-based secretariat said on Wednesday. Warning of a “severe shortage” of “life-saving products” such as  face masks, hand soap, sanitizers and personal protective equipment (PPE), the secretariat said that its members – including China, Japan and the United States, the world’s three biggest economies – could agree to “an APEC-wide standstill.” According to the World Trade Organization (WTO), the average tariff on “protective supplies used in the fight against Covid-19” is 11.5 per cent.

Asia-Pacific region faces sharp recession due to Covid-19 – dpa international

Many Asian countries have been on lockdown for weeks, with exceptions made for essential services such as supermarkets (Simon Roughneen)

KUALA LUMPUR — Members of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec), a 21-country grouping that includes China, Japan and the United States, face collective economic losses of 2.1 trillion dollars in 2020 due to the new coronavirus pandemic. In a report published on Monday, the Singapore-based Apec Secretariat forecast that the region’s economies will shrink by 2.7 per cent this year due to the pandemic. The economic losses exceed the gross domestic products of Canada and South Korea, the fourth and fifth biggest economies in Apec, going by International Monetary Fund (IMF) country rankings. Apec member states account for around 40 per cent of the rouhgly 2.4 million cases of Covid-19, the disease caused by the virus.

Asia’s economic growth to halt for first time since 1960s – dpa international

Evening traffic in Kuala Lumpur before the pandemic (Simon Roughneen)

KUALA LUMPUR — The International Monetary Fund (IMF) believes Asia’s fast-growing economies will “come to a standstill” due to the coronavirus pandemic, faring worse than during the 2008-9 global financial crisis or the 1997-98 Asian crash. The region will experience zero growth for the first time since the 1960s, said Chang Yong Rhee, director of the IMF’s Asia and Pacific Department, who forecast that the economic impact of the pandemic will be “severe, across the board, and unprecedented.” Speaking during a press conference live-streamed from Washington, Rhee said Asia faces “a crisis like no other” due to the pandemic, which has killed over 136,000 people worldwide and prompted governments to impose lockdowns that have hampered commerce. “Containment measures are severely affecting economies,” Rhee said.

Malaysia extends virus lockdown though recoveries again top new cases – dpa international

Staff inside a Kuala Lumpur coffeeshop awaiting customers for takeaway. Sit-in business is not permitted during Malaysia's lockdown (Simon Roughneen)

KUALA LUMPUR — Malaysia’s Health Ministry said on Friday that 222 more people had recovered from Covid-19, the fourth day this week that recoveries exceeded confirmed new cases, even as a nationwide lockdown was prolonged through late April. Of Malaysia’s 4,346 positive diagnoses, 1,830 have recovered and been discharged from hospital since the first cases were confirmed on January 25. 118 new cases were reported on Friday, with new daily cases this week the lowest in a month. “Our trend is quite stable at the moment. Perhaps last week was our peak, now our cases are getting less and less,” said Health Ministry director-general Noor Hisham Abdullah.

Recoveries top new cases ahead of Malaysia virus lockdown decision – dpa international

Food couriers picking up delivery orders at a café in Kuala Lumpur. Restaurants are allowed to provide deliveries and takeaways during Malaysia's lockdown (Simon Roughneen)

KUALA LUMPUR — For the third day this week, Malaysia’s Health Ministry has reported more recoveries from coronavirus than new cases. The number of people discharged from hospital during the 24 hours up was 124, ministry director-general Noor Hisham Abdullah said during an evening press conference, taking the recovery total to 1,608 out of 4,228 cases. The ministry confirmed 109 new cases of Covid-19, the sometimes-deadly respiratory disease caused by the virus. Sixty-seven people have died in Malaysia after contracting the disease, two of them today, Hisham said. Malaysia’s caseload is relatively small compared to countries in Europe, the epicentre of a pandemic that has infected more than a million people worldwide and killed over 88,000, according to official data collated by Johns Hopkins University. 

Covid-19 recoveries exceed new daily cases in Malaysia – dpa international

Waiting area inside the traditional Chinese medicine section of Tung Shin Hospital in Kuala Lumpur (Simon Roughneen)

KUALA LUMPUR — Malaysia’s Health Ministry said on Monday evening that 236 people have recovered from the new coronavirus over the past 24 hours, the highest daily total so far. The confirmed recoveries substantially exceed the 130 new infections diagnosed over the same period and were announcedduring a press conference where ministry officials jubilantly displayed signs emblazoned with “236.” Of Malaysia’s 3,773 cases of Covid-19, the disease caused by the virus, 1,241 people have recovered, while 61 have died.
The rise in recoveries and flattening of new case numbers comes ahead of an April 10 decision by the government on whether to extend a lockdown aimed at containing the virus. The lockdown was imposed on March 18 after a sudden spike in cases, the number of which stood at just 83 one month ago.

Backlash prods Malaysia into banning beer brewing during Covid-19 lockdown

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KUALA LUMPUR — Heineken and Carlsberg will have to close their Malaysia-based breweries to comply with an ongoing lockdown, the Muslim-majority country’s government announced on Monday afternoon. Defence Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob said during a press conference that the decision was taken after the government was criticized for allowing the factories to operate.  “Social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp groups and many more were questioning why the Heineken and Carlsberg factories were still allowed to be open,” Ismail said. Both the youth wing of Bersatu, the party of Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, and the Parti Islam se Malaysia (PAS), which is part of the governing coalition, had questioned whether the breweries should be listed among the “essential” businesses allowed operate during the lockdown, which is aimed at stemming a recent surge in cases in Malaysia to 3,662

Singapore ups fiscal spend for a third time, aims soften economic impact of Covid-19 – dpa international

Singapore skyline over Marina Bay (Simon Roughneen)

KUALA LUMPUR — In a televised speech to parliament on Monday afternoon, Singapore Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat announced a “solidarity budget” that will take government spending aimed at curbing the impact of coronavirus to over 40 billion dollars. Heng said the outlay aims “to save jobs and protect livelihoods of people” during an effective lockdown due to start tomorrow. All Singaporean adults are to receive a one-off handout worth 421 dollars (600 Singapore dollars) while some business levies will be waived or reduced. Monday marks the third time in six weeks that Heng has introduced extra fiscal measures to counter the economic devastation wrought by Covid-19, the potentially fatal respiratory disease caused by the new coronavirus.

Despite economic risk, Singapore lockdown looms after Covid-19 surge – dpa international

KUALA LUMPUR — Announcing an effective lockdown that will run for a month from April 7, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong told Singaporeans on Friday afternoon that the country needs to “make a decisive move now” to stop the coronavirus. “We will close most workplaces except for essential services,” Lee said, touting the move as a “circuit breaker” aimed at interrupting a startling jump in infections over the past week. Singapore has seen the number of cases of Covid-19, the disease caused by the virus, rise to 1,114. Five people have died, the latest fatality announced on Friday morning. Most of this week’s diagnoses have been described by the Health Ministry as “local,” after a period of weeks when most of the new cases originated in homebound Singaporeans and were labelled “imported.” “For half of these [new] cases we don’t know where or from whom they caught the virus,” Lee said

Malaysian trade slump sharpens central bank recession warning – dpa international

KUALA LUMPUR —  New official data show Malaysian trade dropping significantly in February, adding weight to a central bank warning of a looming recession brought on by the coronavirus pandemic. Bank Negara Malaysia, the central bank, said early on Friday that the country’s economy could contract by up to 2 per cent in 2020 due to the outbreak. According to the Department of Statistics and the Ministry for Trade and Industry, Malaysia’s trade in February was down 12.7 per cent compared to January. Although trade increased by 11.6 per cent when measured year-on-year, this year’s plunge is likely to continue while the coronavirus pandemic rages. On February 29, global reported cases of Covid-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus that originated in China in late 2019, stood at just over 86,000, with 25 cases confirmed in Malaysia.