Southeast Asia’s “jaw-dropping” wildlife trade a concern as virus outbreak continues – dpa international

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

KUALA LUMPUR — Newly compiled statistics published by TRAFFIC, a wildlife trade monitoring network, show that more than 200 tons of African elephant ivory and almost a million pangolins have been trafficked through South-east Asia since the turn of the century. “Not a day goes by without a wildlife seizure taking place in South-east Asia, and all too often in volumes that are jaw-dropping,” said Kanitha Krishnasamy TRAFFIC’s Southeast Asia director. The trade in wildlife across Asia has come under increased scrutiny in recent weeks due to the deadly coronavirus outbreak, amid speculation that the virus – which has killed more than 2,000 people – originated in a central China wet market where wild animals were sold and eaten. “llegal wildlife trade will always provide opportunities for viruses to jump from wildlife to people,” TRAFFIC’s senior communications officer Elizabeth John said.

Former Australian and Malaysian prime ministers at odds over MH370 air tragedy – dpa international

Former Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak arriving at Kuala Lumpur High Court on February 10 2020 for one of his ongoing corruption trials (Simon Roughneen)

KUALA LUMPUR — Malaysia’s former prime minister Najib Razak said on Wednesday that there is “no proof” that the pilot of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 was responsible for the unexplained disappearance of the aircraft in 2014. Najib was reacting to comments by former Australian premier Tony Abbott, who said in a TV documentary about MH370 that “my understanding – my very clear understanding – from the very top levels of the Malaysian government is that from very, very early on here, they thought it was a murder-suicide by the pilot.” Abbott, who was Australia’s prime minister at the time of the flight’s disappearance, did not name any officials in the recording, which will air on Australian TV on Wednesday evening. In comments on his personal Facebook and carried in local media, Najib said that it was unfair to blame the pilot “unless and until a black box and cockpit voice recorder were obtained.”

Singapore minister cannot mask scorn for coronavirus panic-buyers – dpa international

KUALA LUMPUR — Leaked audio has emerged of Singaporean Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing criticizing not only his fellow citizens for hoarding but Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam for wearing a medical mask while holding at a press conference. The source of the audio is unknown, but appears to be a recording of a closed-door meeting last week at the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry. The recording, which has been widely shared on Singaporean social media, features Chan claiming that the sight of the mask-clad Hong Kong leader Lam prompted panic-buying in Hong Kong. If Singaporean officials had emulated Lam, Chan said, “our hospital system would have broken down” as there would be “no more masks.”

Singapore to spend over 4bn dollars to dampen coronavirus impact – dpa international

KUALA LUMPUR — Singapore announced its 2020 budget on Tuesday, pledging 5.6 billion Singapore dollars (4.02 billion US dollars) to assist businesses and households affected financially by the coronavirus outbreak. Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat announced the measures in Singapore’s parliament, where he said another 800 million Singapore dollars will be allocated to support “frontline agencies” that are fighting coronavirus in the city-state, where 77 cases have been confirmed.  Heng warned that “the outbreak will certainly impact our economy” and said that inbound tourism and air traffic had already dropped as Chinese outbound tourism plummets. Singapore Airlines announced on Tuesday that it was temporarily reducing flights “due to weak demand as a result of the Covid-19 outbreak.”

Malaysians tagged as Asia’s worst plastic polluters – dpa international

Plastic packaging in a Kuala Lumpur mall (Simon Roughneen)

KUALA LUMPUR — A report published on Monday listed Malaysians as the biggest per capita users of plastic packaging in a region responsible for more than half the plastic litter in the world’s oceans. The report by the World Wide Fund For Nature (WWF) covers China, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam, which together account for “around 60 per cent of plastic debris entering the ocean.” The average Malaysian uses 16.78 kilograms of plastic packaging each year, according to WWF estimates, with Thailand next at 15.52 kg per person per annum. “Rapid economic growth has led to an immense increase in the use of plastic, especially for packaging consumer goods,” the WWF stated, linking plastic use with rising affluence across the region.

US woman retests positive for coranavirus in Malaysia – dpa international

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KUALA LUMPUR —  Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Wan Azizah Wan Ismail said on Sunday that a US citizen had retested positively for coronavirus after arriving on a flight from Phnom Penh. Cambodia’s Health Ministry asked its Malaysian counterpart to retest the 83 year old woman after the positive diagnosis was first announced on Saturday, marking Malaysia’s 22nd coranavirus infection.

Southeast Asia’s economies not immune to coronavirus contagion – dpa international

JAKARTA — In the latest warning that coronavirus could stall economic growth across Asia, Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Friday that the city-state “could take a hit” with recession “possible” this year. Speaking during a visit to Singapore’s Changi Airport, Lee said the economic impact of the disease known as Covid-19 will likely top that of the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). In 2003, the outbreak resulted in reduced commerce and travel across Asia and saw Singapore’s wealthy, trade-based economy shrink by 0.3 per cent during the second quarter. Lee warned on Friday that although Singapore was free of SARS within four months, the timetable for coronavirus “may not be so fast.”

Malaysia’s durian farmers fret over virus fallout – dpa international

Durian-flavoured ice-cream is becoming more popular in parts of Asia (Simon Roughneen)

KUALA LUMPUR — Malaysia’s hopes of exporting 500 million ringgit (120 million dollars) worth of durian a year to China could be stalled by the deadly coronavirus outbreak that has killed more than a thousand people. With much of central China under lockdown and commerce slow to revive after the Chinese New Year, Malaysian growers are noticing falling demand and prices. “People are not working in parts of China, people are not going out, not spending – demand is down,” said Jimmy Loke, owner of Jimmy’s Durian Orchard in the region of Pahang, east of Kuala Lumpur. Prices in the region have dropped by “around a quarter” since the outbreak, Loke said.

Singapore airshow has wings clipped by virus scare – dpa international

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

KUALA LUMPUR — The Singapore Airshow, billed Asia’s biggest aviation event, started on Tuesday with attendances set to be down on previous years due to coronavirus concerns. Citing worries about the virus, whoch has killed over a thousand people in China and has infected over 40 people in Singapore, airshow organizers said ticket numbers were being “scaled down for the well-being and safety of all visitors.” The event will run until February 16 and will feature daredevil flying displays by fighter jets from the United States and the Chinese air force. An airshow conference featuring speeches from sector leaders, including the head of the US Federal Aviation Administration, was cancelled due to the concerns.

Singapore minister slams Muslim teacher over anti-Chinese comments – dpa international

KUALA LUMPUR — Singapore’s minister of law and home affairs on Friday accused a Muslim religious teacher of making “racist” and “xenophobic” anti-Chinese comments about the deadly coronavirus outbreak that has killed 636 people and infected over 30,000. In a Facebook post, K Shanmugan said his ministry will investigate Abdul Halim Abdul Karim over comments suggesting that coronavirus is divine retribution for China’s policies in its western Xinjiang region, where human rights groups allege that around 1 million Muslim Uighurs have been detained in camps. The minister described as “thoroughly racist” Karim’s suggestion that coronavirus has spread because of Chinese personal hygiene habits, adding that “society has to take a clear stand against such comments.”