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.

No raging against the machine as guitar icon hails Malaysian cover – dpa international

A light rail train on the move pver a Kuala Lumpur street left empty by Malaysia's lockdown (Simon Roughneen)

KUALA LUMPUR — A Malaysian father-daughter duet cover of “Killing In The Name,” a 1992 Rage Against The Machine moshpit churner with an instantly-recognizable riff and bass line, has been given a thumbs-up by Tom Morello, the guitar virtuoso who composed the tune. Morello posted the clip on his Instagram account – which has over 1.1 million followers – early on Wednesday, dubbing it “Quite possibly the hardest cover of this song ever.” The original Youtube clip of the cover – which was posted by Ujang Ijon and featured him plucking on an acoustic guitar while daughter Audrey piped some of the song’s lyrics into the camera – had garnered 113,000 views at time of writing.

Malaysia recovering from coronavirus, health ministry believes – dpa international

KUALA LUMPUR — Malaysia’s Ministry of Health announced 31 new cases of Covid-19 on Tuesday, the lowest daily increase since March 12 and a tally that prompted a leading health official to suggest the country is “entering the recovery phase.” Ministry Director-General Noor Hisham Abdullah said that Malaysia is on track to emulate neighbouring Thailand, which has a population more than twice as big, by seeing new cases drop to below 10 by next week. Malaysia has “succeeded in flattening the curve,” Hisham said during a press conference, adding that he believes that the country’s Movement Control Order, the official name for a lockdown imposed on March 18, is working. Malaysia’s confirmed cases of Covid-19 stand at 5,851, just over a third of smaller neighbour Singapore’s total, while 100 people have died in the country after being infected. Almost 70 per cent of the total infected in Malaysia have recovered, according to the Ministry of Health. Despite the drop in daily new cases to an average of 53 over the past week, the government has extended the lockdown to May 12. “Let’s stay disciplined and deal with it now for our own convenience in the future,” Defence Minister Ismail Sabri said during a separate Tuesday press conference, arguing that is preferable to retain the lockdown rather than have to re-impose it should infection numbers rise again.

Singapore’s Covid-19 tests hint at huge number of migrant cases – dpa international

Inside Singapore General Hospital (Simon Roughneen)

KUALA LUMPUR — Singapore’s Health Minister Gan Kim Yong said on Monday that 21,000 foreign workers have been tested for the new coronavirus since the start of the outbreak. Of that total of 21,000, Ministry of Health statistics released on Sunday showed 11,419 positive test results, numbers that suggest half the roughly 320,000 workers, many of who sleep 10-20 to a room in crowded dormitories, could be infected.  The 5.8 million-population city-state had confirmed 14,423 cases of Covid-19 by Monday afternoon, meaning that around 80 per cent of the city-state’s cases are among foreign workers who live in the dormitories. Of Monday’s 799 new cases of Covid-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, “the vast majority” were in the dormitories, according to the Ministry of Health. Singapore had just 1,000 confirmed Covid-19 cases at the start of April but imposed a lockdown, or “circuit breaker,” on April 7 after case numbers surged in the dormitories.

Malaysian government criticized for blocking Rohingya refugees – dpa international

KUALA LUMPUR — Malaysia’s government is facing domestic censure for turning back 200 Rohingya refugees who sought to enter the country during the coronavirus pandemic. On Friday, the Malaysian Bar Council, a lawyers’ organization, said it was “deeply disheartened” by the government’s refusal to allow a boatload of Rohingya disembark at Langkawi, a Malaysian island, on February 16, describing the pushback as a violation of international legal norms against turning away refugees.  On Thursday, opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim urged authorities to allow refugee boats to dock. The Rohingya are a minority Muslim ethnic group that has been subjected to what the United Nations describes as “genocide” at the hands of the military in Myanmar, their home country.

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.

Malaysia to extend Covid-19 lockdown even as infection numbers decline – dpa international

Not much traffic on the streets of Kuala Lumpur, six weeks into a lockdown which is slowing the spread of the new coronavirus (Simon Roughneen)

KUALA LUMPUR — During a televised speech on Thursday night to mark the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin announced that a lockdown aimed at stemming the coronavirus pandemic will be extended until May 12. Although Malaysia’s new cases of Covid-19, the disease caused by the virus, have dropped to well below 100 a day over the past week – and recoveries among the infected have risen to 63 per cent of the 5,603 confirmed total – Muhyiddin did not rule out extending the restrictions beyond mid-May. “You may not be able to celebrate Hari Raya (the holiday marking the end of Ramadan) in your kampung (village),” the prime minister warned. The lockdown, known officially as a Movement Control Order, was first imposed on March 18 and has now been extended into a fourth two-week phase.

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.