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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 to allow transit flights from June 2 as restrictions eased – dpa international

Singapore harbour seen from Marina Bay, a popular vantage point for visitors (Simon Roughneen)

KUALA LUMPUR — Singapore will permit some international passengers to transit through Changi Airport from June 2 as restrictions to stem the spread of the coronavirus are gradually lifted. Singapore’s Civil Aviation Authority announced on Wednesday that the city-state aims to “gradually reopen air transport to meet the needs of our economy and our people, whilst ensuring sufficient safeguards for safe travel.” Changi Airport is a widely-used hub for travellers making their way to and from the Asia-Pacific region. Authorities closed two of its four terminals after international travel came to a standstill in the wake of the pandemic and Singapore’s ban on visitors and transit.

Malaysia’s parliament holds brief first sitting under new government – dpa international

KUALA LUMPUR — Malaysia’s parliament convened briefly on Monday for its first session since Muhyiddin Yassin was sworn in as prime minister in March. Citing the new coronavirus pandemic, the government limited the sitting to a brief address by King Abdullah, who praised the country’s health workers and repeated his earlier assessment that Muhyiddin has the backing of a parliamentary majority. The ring-fenced session, during which neither motions nor debate were allowed, scuppered an attempt to regain power by Muhyiddin’s predecessor, 94-year-old Mahathir Mohamad, who last week proposed holding a no-confidence vote in Muhyiddin. Mahathir’s shock February 24 resignation was followed by a frenetic week-long power struggle, during which Mahathir re-entered the fray to return as leader after it became apparent that Anwar Ibrahim, another leading member of Mahathir’s alliance, did not have enough support among parliamentarians to lead the country.

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 national airline records first-ever annual loss – dpa international

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KUALA LUMPUR — Singapore Airlines reported a net annual loss of 212 million Singapore dollars (149 million US dollars) for the year to March 31, the first time in the carrier’s 48-year history that it failed to earn an annual profit. The airline’s revenue was down nearly a billion dollars on 2019, when it posted a 683-million-dollar profit. The carrier put the reversal largely down to the impact of the new coronavirus pandemic – which halted most international travel even before Singapore’s government closed the country’s borders and imposed a lockdown on April 7. “Market conditions deteriorated abruptly in February,” Singapore Airlines noted in a statement. The airline signalled in March that it would be forced to temporarily ground 96 per cent of its capacity due to the pandemic.

Malaysia’s economy hit hard by coronavirus, even before lockdown – dpa international

Supermarket shelves being stocked during Malaysia's lockdown (Simon Roughneen)

KUALA LUMPUR — Malaysia’s economy contracted by 2 per cent in the first quarter of 2020 compared with the final quarter of 2019, according to official data released on Wednesday. The decline was attributed to the impact of the coranavirus pandemic, which spread from China, Malaysia’s biggest trade partner, in late 2019 and prompted South-East Asia’s third-largest economy to impose a strict lockdown on March 18. “Our exports to China have (dropped sharply) since the beginning January 2020,” said Mohd Uzir Mahidin, chief statistician at Department of Statistics, adding that the downturn has also affected the tourism industry. Malaysia’s economy grew between 4.5 per cent and 7.4 per cent a year from 2010 onwards, according to World Bank data. The quarterly decline announced on Wednesday brought year-on-year growth down to 0.7 per cent, the lowest since the 2008-9 global financial crisis.