Covid-19 to slam the brakes on Asia’s high-octane economies – dpa international

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

KUALA LUMPUR — Countries across East Asia and the Pacific face recession and rising poverty as economies grind to a halt due to the deadly coronavirus pandemic. In a report published on Tuesday, the World Bank warned that “significant economic pain seems unavoidable” across what was one of the world’s fastest-growing regions before the outbreak, which has killed almost 38,000 people worldwide. Though East Asia’s developing economies expanded at an estimated 5.8 per cent in 2019, some countries were already struggling with the knock-on effects of the China-United States trade war before the virus emerged in China in late 2019. Now, according to the bank, a possible 2.8 per cent region-wide contraction looms should a sustained pandemic force lengthy lockdowns and constrict business worldwide.

Over 1,100 lockdown arrests as Malaysian coronavirus cases top 2,600 – dpa international

Food delivery motorcycles are about the most commonly-seen traffic in Kuala Lumpur during the virus lockdown (Simon Roughneen)

KUALA LUMPUR — Malaysia has arrested at least 1,100 people for violating a lockdown aimed at curbing a recent spike in coronavirus cases to 2,626, the highest reported national total in Southeast Asia. During a Monday press conference streamed via Facebook, Defence Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob said that 828 people were detained on Sunday for breaching movement restrictions imposed on March 18. Police had earlier announced over 300 arrests for alleged violations such as jogging and playing football. One suspect, a 61-year-old cardiologist, told police that running should be permitted for health reasons. A video of the encounter went viral on Malaysian social media last week ahad of the accused pleading not guilty in court on Monday. Giving notice of further restrictions aimed at halting the spread of Covid-19, the respiratory disease caused by the new coronavirus pandemic that has killed almost 35,000 worldwide, Ismail said Malaysia’s shops will reduce operating hours from Wednesday “All supermarkets or any premises selling essential items shall observe the new operation hours, which is from 8am to 8pm,” the minister said. 

Malaysia to try counter virus impact with huge 58bn-dollar stimulus – dpa international

Beggars on otherwise near-empty streets during lockdown in Kuala Lumpur (Simon Roughneen)

KUALA LUMPUR — Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin said on Friday that Malaysia aims to spend 250 billion ringgit (58.2 billion US dollars) to counter the health and economic impacts of the coronavirus pandemic. Speaking on national television, Muhyiddin said the “people’s economic stimulus package will benefit everyone.” With the economy at a standstill since a lockdown was imposed by the government on March 18, the prime minister pledged around a third of the funds to support hard-pressed businesses and promised one-off cash payouts to a range of groups, including unmarried low-income earners, pensioners and bottom-tier civil servants. A recent dip in prices for export commodities such as palm oil could leave Malaysia hard-pressed find the money to pay for its mammoth stimulus, which equates to just under a sixth of the country’s estimated 370-billion-dollar gross domestic product (GDP).

Singapore to spend 38 billion dollars as pandemic pummels economy – dpa international

KUALA LUMPUR — Singapore’s Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat proposes spending up to 55 billion Singapore dollars (38 billion US dollars) to cushion the wealthy city-state against a looming recession triggered by coronavirus. “As an open economy, we will be deeply impacted by these global shocks,” Heng, who doubles up as Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s deputy, told parliament on Thursday afternoon. Announcing what he termed a “resilience budget,” Heng projected that Singapore could spend up to 11 per cent of its gross domestic product to counter what he said could be “a recession at least as bad as the global financial crisis.” Singapore, which has the world’s fourth-highest GDP per capita according to International Monetary Fund (IMF) rankings, will spend over 11 billion dollars of its estimated hundreds of billions of dollars in reserves, Heng said. 

Singapore ramps up virus testing and tracing, cautions pubs ahead of shutdown – dpa international

Mount Elizabeth Medical Center in Singapore, destination for medical tourists from around Asia (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

KUALA LUMPUR — Police will patrol Singapore’s bars and nightclubs staging “farewell” events on Wednesday night, ahead of a government-enforced shutdown due to coronavirus. A joint statement on Wednesday by Singapore’s police, Tourism Ministry and enterprise board warned that attendance must be limited to 250 people. Organizers must “reduce mingling amongst participants” by keeping people “at least a metre” apart, the statement read, as Singaporeans took to social media to accuse the various venues of irresponsibility and recklessness. After a recent jump of Covid-19 cases, the lung disease caused by the new coronavirus, Singapore announced on Tuesday that “entertainment venues” such as bars, cinemas, discos and theatres would have to close from March 26 until April 30.

Malaysia extends virus lockdown to mid-April as deaths hit 19 – dpa international

Lockdown as seen Iinside a Kuala Lumpur shopping mall on March 25 2020 (Simon Roughneen)

KUALA LUMPUR — Malaysia will extend restrictions aimed at stemming rising numbers of new coronavirus cases until mid-April, Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin said on Wednesday. “The trend [of new infections] is expected to continue for a while before new cases begin to subside,” Muhyiddin said in a televised lunchtime address, announcing that curbs on travel and business imposed a week ago will be extended to April 14. “The public must be mentally and physically prepared to stay at home for a reasonably longer period of time,” the prime minister warned. Malaysia’s Health Ministry announced later on Wednesday that 19 people have died in the country after contracting Covid-19, the respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus, in the pandemic that has killed over 19,000 worldwide.

Malaysia urged not to arrest migrants who take Covid-19 test – dpa international

KUALA LUMPUR — Concerns are growing that as Malaysia’s coronavirus death toll rises, migrant workers who have risked potential exposure are not being tested due to fear of arrest. The Malaysian government has stated that that undocumented migrants and refugees will not be detained if they come forward to be screened for Covid-19, the respiratory disease caused by the new coronavirus. However the pledges have been criticized as belated and insufficient by organizations that assist some of Malaysia’s estimated 3 million migrant or expatriate workers. Gurdial Singh Nijar, president of Hakam, the National Human Rights Society, said on Tuesday that the government should issue public directives to police and immigration officials, to further reassure migrants, who might otherwise fear “harassment or adverse consequences.”

Singapore to close pubs, cinemas as imported coronavirus cases rise – dpa international

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KUALA LUMPUR — Singapore’s Health Ministry on Tuesday announced a range of new restrictions aimed at curbing the spread of coronavirus, with “entertainment venues” such as bars, cinemas, theatres and nightclubs to be shuttered until April 30. The measures were announced as the ministry reported that 49 more people were diagnosed with Covid-19, the respiratory illness caused by coronavirus. Two people have died in Singapore after contracting the disease. Thirty-two of the new cases were categorized as “imported,” 27 of which were linked to a recent travel history to Britain, which on Monday announced a lockdown aimed at curbing its own spread of the virus.

Producers say Malaysia’s lockdown could cause medical gloves shortage – dpa international

Inside a Kuala Lumpur shopping mall during Malaysia's anti-virus lockdown (Simon Roughneen)

KUALA LUMPUR — Manufacturers in Malaysia, the world’s biggest source of rubber gloves, warned on Monday that a government-imposed lockdown could result in a worldwide shortage of the protective equipment needed in combatting the coronavirus pandemic. The government has put the country under lockdown until the end of the month, forcing most businesses to close except for “essential” services. However the Malaysian Rubber Glove Manufacturers Association (MARGMA), an industry body, said its members have been forced by the lockdown to operate at half their usual capacity. The restrictions, the association said, have “led to a shortfall of gloves around the world,” prompting the group to urge the Malaysian government “to allow the rubber glove industry to operate at 100 per cent so that we can meet the surge in demand for rubber gloves from many parts of the world.”

Singapore’s schools reopen despite pandemic, bucking global trend – dpa international

KUALA LUMPUR — Singapore’s schools and kindergartens reopened as scheduled on Monday after a holiday, a day after the government announced a ban on visitors due to the pandemic. The reopening comes as the number of cases of Covid-19, the disease caused by the virus, continues to increase in Singapore, with 32 new cases announced on Sunday for a total of 455. Two people have died. That number is relatively low compared with countries in Europe, the pandemic’s “epicentre” according to the World Health Organization, where widespread school closures have been ordered in recent weeks