Face masks ’79-per-cent effective’ in slowing Covid-19 spread at home – dpa international

Lining up to enter a Kuala Lumpur hardware shop after Malaysia ended its lockdown on May 4 (Simon Roughneen)

KUALA LUMPUR — Wearing face masks at home can prevent pre-symptomatic transmission of the new coronavirus in households, according to a new study published in the British Medical Journal. The findings, based on interviews with Chinese families carried out by doctors and academics in Australia, China and the United States, suggest that “precautionary [non-pharmaceutical interventions], such as mask use, disinfection and social distancing in households can prevent Covid-19 transmission during the pandemic.” The authors contend that the research shows wearing masks at home to be “79-per-cent effective at curbing transmission before symptoms emerged in the first person infected.” The work was led by the Beijing Centre for Disease Prevention and Control and involved the School of Public Health at the University of Nevada and the University of New South Wales’ Faculty of Medicine.

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 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.

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.

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.

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.

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. 

Malaysia’s under-pressure leader extends some virus curbs to June 9 – dpa international

During Malaysia's lockdown, restaurants were allowed to serve food for takeaway or delivery, much if it done by motorcycle couriers (Simon Roughneen)

KUALA LUMPUR — Restrictions aimed at reducing the spread of the new coronavirus in Malaysia will remain in place for another month, Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin announced on Sunday. Schools and places of worship remain closed until June 9, as does Malaysia’s border. Muhyiddin’s government imposed a strictly enforced lockdown from March 18 until last Monday – when some rules were relaxed to allow people exercise outdoors, dine in at restaurants and return to work in sectors not previously deemed “essential.” Muhyiddin justified the relaxation by saying that Malaysia’s economy was shedding the equivalent of a half a billion dollars a day. He said on Sunday that “the number of new cases has remained low and under control, and there has been a high rate of recovery.”

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.

Malaysian businesses expect economic pain long after lockdown lifts – dpa international

Lining up to enter a Kuala Lumpur shopping mall on May 4 2020 (Simon Roughneen)

KUALA LUMPUR — Malaysian business has been hammered by a lockdown imposed in mid-March to try contain the new coronavirus pandemic, according a government survey released on Friday. Some 42.5 per cent of the 4,094 companies canvassed by the Department of Statistics said they will need at least six months to recover from the restrictions, which until Monday required people to stay at home unless buying essentials or commuting to work. Only 27 per cent of businesses said they expect to recover within three months of the restrictions being lifted. With 67 per cent of the businesses reporting no sales or income during the lockdown, the same percentage said they needed tax relief to survive, with 83 per cent seeking subsidies. Malaysia’s retail sales fell 5.7 per cent to a seven year low in March, the department reported separately, with unemployment climbing 17 per cent year-on-year to reach 3.9 per cent.