Malaysian PM self-isolates after possible Covid-19 exposure – dpa international

Muhyiddin Yassin seen giving a speech at an anti-government rally in Kuala Lumpur in November 2016 (Simon Roughneen)

KUALA LUMPUR — Malaysia’s Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin tested negative for Covid-19 on Friday but will spend the next two weeks in self-isolation after attending a meeting involving an official who later tested positive for the disease. A Friday statement by the Prime Minister’s Office said that Muhyiddin, who took office in March, “is required to undergo a quarantine at home for 14 days beginning this afternoon.” The meeting took place on Wednesday, the office stated, without identifying the attendees aside from Muhyiddin. Malaysia has confirmed 7,137 coronavirus cases and 115 related deaths. Over 80 per cent of those infected with the coronavirus have recovered.

Singapore’s Covid-19 cases top 30,000 as more migrants infected – dpa international

KUALA LUMPUR — Singapore’s confirmed coronavirus cases reached 30,426 on Friday as the Ministry of Health announced 664 new infections. The ministry said the “vast majority” of Friday’s cases are foreign migrant workers living in dozens of crowded dormitories that emerged as hotbeds for transmission in late March. A summary published by the ministry on Thursday shows a cumulative 27,541 cases in dormitories, where over 300,000 mostly young male immigrants from across Asia reside while working in sectors such as security and construction.

Malaysia to allow non-Muslim public worship to resume in June – dpa international

KUALA LUMPUR — Muslim-majority Malaysia will allow minority faiths to reopen places of worship from June 10, a further relaxation of curbs imposed to stem the new coronavirus pandemic and one that has already been extended to Muslim ceremonies. After a meeting with leaders of minority religions, Defence Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob said on Thursday that attendance at such events will be limited to 30 people. “There must also be body temperature checks, hand sanitizer preparation, and devotees are required to wear face masks,” Ismail said. Church weddings will not be allowed until July 31. A total of 174 churches and temples will reopen with each permit limited to one or two days per week. “For example, Christians go to church on Sundays,” Ismail said.

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 home help migrants face ‘hidden plight’ due to Covid-19 – dpa international

KUALA LUMPUR — A lockdown imposed in Singapore to stall the spread of the new coronavirus has led to increased incidences of domestic helpers being overworked or abused, according to a group that operates a helpline for migrant workers. The Humanitarian Organization for Migrant Economics (HOME) said on Friday that calls to the helpline had jumped by 25 per cent since the restrictions were introduced on April 7. Most businesses were closed, forcing Singaporeans to work from home. In turn, some domestic workers – often young women from neighbouring countries such as Indonesia and the Philippines who cook and clean for the city-state’s well-to-do families – face “increased work hours as employers are home at almost all hours of the day, leading to an increase in household and caregiving duties,” HOME stated.

Pandemic panic could see surgeries and vaccinations postponed – dpa international

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

KUALA LUMPUR — The coronavirus pandemic could see 28.4 million elective surgeries cancelled or postponed worldwide, with potentially deadly consequences for cancer patients, according to a report published on Thursday. “Patients’ conditions may deteriorate, worsening their quality of life as they wait for rescheduled surgery,” said Aneel Bhangu, consultant surgeon at the NIHR Global Health Research Unit on Global Surgery at Britain’s University of Birmingham. “In some cases, for example cancer, delayed surgeries may lead to a number of unnecessary deaths,” said Bhangu, one of a group of doctors and academics across 11 countries who authored the report, which was published in the British Journal of Surgery. Based on information shared by doctors at 359 hospitals in 71 countries, the study was prompted by Britain’s National Health Service announcing in March that “non-urgent” surgeries would be cancelled for a period of 12 weeks.

Malaysia to allow some mosques to reopen for Friday prayers – dpa international

KUALA LUMPUR – Malaysian authorities will allow 88 mosques to hold Islamic Friday prayers this week in a relaxation of curbs imposed on places of worship due to the coronavirus pandemic. Up to 30 people will be allowed enter the mosques to pray as long as they “observe social distancing, practice sanitizing and get details [of those who enter] for record purposes,” said Zulkifli Mohamad, Malaysia’s Minister for Islamic Affairs. The reopening of some mosques comes ahead of the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, scheduled for May 24. Around 60 per cent of Malaysia’s 32 million residents are Muslim. A strictly policed lockdown was imposed in Malaysia on March 18 following a spike in cases of the novel coronavirus.

Singapore’s Covid-19 caseload tops 25,000 with more migrants infected – dpa international

A Singapore mall popular with expats from the Philippines (Simon Roughneen)

KUALA LUMPUR — Singapore’s Health Ministry on Wednesday announced 675 new cases of Covid-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, taking the national total to 25,346. Almost all the wealthy city-state’s cases are among low-wage foreign workers confined to dozens of crowded dormitories. Health Ministry data published on Tuesday showed 22,334 dormitory cases, while on Wednesday the ministry added that “the vast majority” of the day’s new cases are in the workers’ accommodation. Singapore aims to test all 323,000 dormitory residents – mostly young men working in sectors such as construction and hailing from countries including Bangladesh, Indonesia and Myanmar. 

Lockdown leads to temporary re-wilding in Malaysia, but at a cost –

Shutters down on a restaurant in Kuala Lumpur during Malaysia's lockdown (Simon Roughneen)

KUALA LUMPUR — Dubbed one of the world’s 12 “mega-diverse” countries by wildlife experts, Malaysia is home to an array of instantly recognizable species, many of which have been driven to near-extinction by deforestation. A Google project in 2013 showed Malaysia losing almost 15 per cent of its jungle over the previous decade – much of it cleared to make way for plantations generating the palm oil that makes up around 4 per cent of exports. Although land clearances have slowed, decades of deforestation have left marquee species – such as the orangutan and local variants of elephant, rhinoceros and tiger – listed as threatened or endangered by monitoring organizations such as the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. The animals have been granted a respite of late, with their human tormentors transfixed by an epidemic that prompted an unprecedented response: shutdown.