Malaysia criticised over ‘crackdown’ on media, NGOs, undocumented migrants – dpa international

Billboard in Kuala Lumpur showing Malaysia's Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin (Simon Roughneen)

KUALA LUMPUR – The United Nations has labelled recent round-ups of undocumented foreign workers as “alarming” and called on the Malaysian government “to refrain from raiding locked-down areas.” “The current crackdown and hate campaign are severely undermining the effort to fight the pandemic in the country,” said Felipe Gonzalez Morales, the UN’s Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants. According to Malaysia’s Health Ministry, several “clusters” of Covid-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, have been found in migrant worker communities, leading to the areas being cordoned off.  Around 200 migrants from countries such as Bangladesh and Indonesia were nabbed by police in Kuala Lumpur on Wednesday, the latest in a series of raids that have seen least 1,800 people detained in the month of May.

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.

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. 

Journalist faces Malaysian police grilling for migrant coverage – dpa international

A near-deserted street in Kuala Lumpur during Malaysia's lockdown (Simon Roughneen)

KUALA LUMPUR — Malaysia’s communications and multimedia minister said on Sunday that he will ask officials not to “act against” a journalist facing police action for an article reporting on the arrests of hundreds of migrant workers. “I may not like ur piece but I will defend ur right to write it,” wrote Saifuddin Abdullah, responding on Twitter to a post by journalist Tashny Sukumaran – in which she said she has been summoned for questioning about a Friday report in the South China Morning Post, a Hong Kong newspaper. On Sunday, which is World Press Freedom Day, Saifuddin said he is “looking into” a telecommunications law under which the journalist will be questioned and which non-governmental mouthpiece Reporters Without Borders brands part of “a draconian arsenal” of codes undermining media freedom. A group of 586 undocumented foreign workers were rounded up by police on Friday during an operation to test around 3,000 migrants for Covid-19.

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.

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.

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.