Calm and consternation coincide in Malaysia’s anti-virus shutdown – dpa international

Food delivery couriers - such as this one stopping in the shade of Kuala Lumpur's Petronas Towers - were busy around Kuala Lumpur on Wedneday with restaurants are limited to takeaway or delivery and citizens urged to stay at home during Malaysia's part-lockdown (Simon Roughneen)

KUALA LUMPUR — An uncanny hush hung over the usually bustling streets of Kuala Lumpur on Wednesday as Malaysia began a two-week partial lockdown aimed at reversing an alarming recent surge in coronavirus cases to nearly 800. “Sometimes it takes an hour, now the streets are nearly empty,” said Roslee Mohamad, who had just parked after a short drive between two downtown shopping malls in Malaysia’s commercial capital. The government’s measures, announced Monday night and in effect until March 31, include the banning of foreign visitors and the shuttering of most businesses except for “essential services.” Inside Pavilion, one of the city’s swankiest malls, most shops were closed except for grocery stores and pharmacies, while customers are barred from dining in restaurants. “We are just open for takeaway,” said Janet Unite, cashier at a cafe inside the mall.

Malaysia reports first deaths from Covid-19 as case numbers near 700 – dpa international

Woman selling sanitary masks in Kuala Lumpur on March 17 2020, the day before Malaysia goes into a two-week lockdown (Simon Roughneen)

KUALA LUMPUR — Malaysia reported its first deaths on Tuesday evening from Covid-19, the respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Local authorities in Sarawak on the Malaysian part of island of Borneo said that a 60-year-old pastor died in hospital in Kuching, the regional capital. Some 193 close contacts of the deceased have been put under home quarantine, the Sarawak State Secretariat Disaster Committee stated, though the source of the dead man’s infection is unknown. By evening the national Health Ministry announced a second fatality – a 34-year-old male who was among an estimated 15,000-16,000 people who attended an Islamic ceremony held on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur at the end of last month.

Malaysia’s rubber gloves makers say ready to meet coronavirus needs – dpa international

Gloves being worn at Kuala Lumpur supermarket on March 17 2020, the day before the national lockdown due to coronavirus (Simon Roughneen)

KUALA LUMPUR – Malaysia’s rubber gloves manufacturers say they are gearing up to meet growing global demand for surgical and medical gloves spurred by the coronavirus pandemic and have appealed to the government not to curtail their operations during a partial lockdown scheduled to run from Wednesday until the end of March. “We shall re-strategize to ensure supply is adequate, at least to those severely affected areas,” said Denis Low, president of the Malaysian Rubber Glove Manufacturers Association (MARGMA), an industry association, in a Tuesday statement. Malaysia, the world’s biggest supplier of rubber gloves, has seen 673 confirmed cases of coronavirus and two deaths. A recent spike in cases prompted the government to state that most businesses – except shops like grocery and corner stores – would be forced to lock up during the lockdown.

Malaysia to impose lockdown after coronavirus case numbers swell – dpa international

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KUALA LUMPUR — Responding to a surge in coronavirus cases over the past week, the Malaysian Government has ordered sweeping travel restrictions, ordered most business except for shops to close, and banned foreigners from entering the country until the end of the month. In a 10pm address to the nation, Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin said that the lockdown, which includes closing mosques across the Muslim-majority country, would apply from March 18-31, during which Malaysians will not be permitted to travel abroad. “The current situation of the outbreak requires drastic action to be taken to recover the situation as soon as possible,” Muhyiddin warned, adding that essential government services and banks will remain open. Malaysia reported 125 new cases of coronavirus on Monday evening, taking the country’s total to 553, 338 of which have been traced to an Islamic ceremony held in Kuala Lumpur’s outskirts in late February that was attended by an estimated 15-16,000 people and which spawned cases among worshippers from Brunei, Cambodia and Singapore. 

Malaysia bans mass gatherings, Singapore curbs travel from virus-hit Europe – dpa international

With concerns growing about the possible spread of Novel Coronavirus, facemasks are an increasingly-common sight in cities such as Kuala Lumpur (Simon Roughneen)

KUALA LUMPUR — As Malaysia’s coronavirus caseload neared 200, Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin announced in a televised speech on Friday night that all mass gatherings will be cancelled until the end of April. This includes international meetings as well as religious and sporting events, Muhyiddin said, adding that gross domestic product had contracted between 0.8 and 1.2 per cent since the coronavirus outbreak began in China, Malaysia’s biggest trade partner. As Muhyiddin was addressing the nation, the country’s Health Ministry confirmed 39 new coronavirus cases, bringing the total to 197.

Singapore hotel going ahead with durian festival – dpa international

Durian for sale in Singapore (Simon Roughneen)

JAKARTA — An annual “Durian Fiesta” in Singapore will proceed as planned this year, despite 178 cases of the potentially-deadly coronavirus in the island city-state. The event starts on March 14 and will celebrate the Southeast Asian favourite, which proponents extol as “the king of fruits.” But wiill visitors brave the risk of infection for this of all fruits, given its odour elsewhere described – in some of the more polite terms – as akin to rotting flesh, sweat-laced clothes and festering garbage. The Goodwood Park Hotel organizing the event, running between March and July, concedes that the durian, with its spiky green husk and creamy texture, is “an acquired taste.”

Cruise ship barred by Malaysia and Thailand over coronavirus to dock in Singapore – dpa international

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JAKARTA – The Maritime and Port Authority (MPA) of Singapore said that the Costa Fortuna cruise vessel will dock at the city-state on March 10. The ship, which is carrying over 2,000 passengers, including 64 Italians, was refused entry to Phuket in Thailand and Penang in Malaysia over concerns about coronavirus, as the number of cases in Italy surged. The MPA and the Singapore Tourism Board said that the ship’s passengers, who departed Singapore on March 3, could disembark as they had “completed pre-embarkation checks based on prevailing policies for travel history and temperature screening as required by the cruise line and the terminal operator prior to boarding.” 

Malaysia power vacuum stalls measures against trade war, coronavirus – dpa international

With concerns growing about the possible spread of Novel Coronavirus, facemasks are an increasingly-common sight in cities such as Kuala Lumpur (Simon Roughneen)

BANGKOK — As Malaysia’s political parties jostled on Tuesday to replace the coalition government that collapsed the previous day, the fate of a potentially vital economic stimulus package was hanging in the balance. Concerns about the twin impacts of the China-US trade war and the deadly coronavirus outbreak prompted Malaysia’s Pakatan Harapan/Alliance of Hope government to draft financial proposals that were due to be announced on Thursday. However the proposals have been stalled by the shock resignation of Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad on Monday and the withdrawal of his Bersatu party from the governing alliance. Lim Guan Eng, who was finance minister in the government, stated on Tuesday afternoon that Mahathir intended to publish details of the package “at a date to be announced by him.”

Coronavirus means Ash Wednesday restrictions for Asia’s Catholics – dpa international

KUALA LUMPUR — Catholics in Southeast Asia will have to do without one of their most recognizable motifs due to the coronavirus outbreak. On February 26, the Christian holy day of Ash Wednesday this year, Catholics in Malaysia and the Philippines will have dry ash sprinkled onto their heads instead of the usual smearing of a damp grey-black ash cross. Archbishop Romulo Valles, president of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines, stated that the measures were motivated by “our concern for the well-being of our brothers and sisters” and the taking of the “utmost care and efforts towards the prevention of the spread of COVID-19.” The virus that has spread to around two dozen countries, has killed over 2,200 people, mostly in China, where the pandemic originated.

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.