Claims of Saudi donations resurface in ex-Malaysian PM’s graft trial – dpa international

Former Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak arriving at Kuala Lumpur High Court on February 10 2020 for one of his ongoing corruption trials (Simon Roughneen)

KUALA LUMPUR — Allegations of lavish contributions from Saudi Arabia re-emerged on Wednesday during one of former Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak’s ongoing trials over alleged theft of public money and related abuses of office. When lurid corruption claims were first levelled against Najib Razak in 2015, the then-prime minister said the largesse involved, said to be around 700 million dollars, was donated from the world’s biggest oil producer. In court in Kuala Lumpur on Wednesday, Najib’s defence team said that letters purportedly from Saudi royals meant Najib had no reasonable cause to question the source of money flowing into his bank account. The missives, the defence said, were shown to Malaysia’s central bank and anti-corruption commission before representatives of the latter travelled to Saudi Arabia to discuss the matter with several princes.”If the letters were not genuine, there would have been denial on the spot,” said defence lawyer Harvinderjit Singh, who added that he was not claiming the donations took place.

Singapore ends two-month virus lockdown, though some curbs remain – dpa international

KUALA LUMPUR — Singapore on Tuesday began allowing activities that “do not pose high risk of transmission” to resume after two months of lockdown, despite reporting the second-highest number of coronavirus cases in East Asia. Some offices and factories resumed operations, children went back to school, while places of worship began to open their doors.  Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Monday that the relaxation will likely prove “a big relief to all” but one that is “certainly not without its risks.” The wealthy city-state, an investment and trade hub whose seaport and airport rank among the world’s busiest, has diagnosed 35,292 cases of the new coronavirus, more than any country in East or South-East Asia except for China. Most of the cases are among foreign migrants confined to dormitories, though the related death toll, at 24, is one of the world’s lowest.

A month after lockdown ends, Malaysia slowly getting back to normal – dpa international

Not many people around in this central Kuala Lumpur mall, more than three weeks after the end of Malaysia's lockdown (Simon Roughneen)

KUALA LUMPUR — Business and consumer activity in South-East Asia’s third-wealthiest economy is inching back towards pre-pandemic levels, going by data published almost a month after the end of a strictly-enforced lockdown. Monday’s IHS Markit Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI), a widely cited survey of businesses, showed manufacturing rising in May after a record low in April, when Malaysia was in lockdown. According to IHS Markit, the May rebound in business activity came “amid reports that some firms had restarted production following a partial lifting of lockdown rules.” However, the PMI survey showed the May bounce-back as “indicative of a further deterioration in manufacturing sector conditions” – as overall performance remained below the 50 mark, which Malaysia last hit in January. If the PMI reads below 50, it suggests businesses are cutting back.

Singapore and China to reopen some travel in June – dpa international

KUALA LUMPUR — A “fast lane” for business and “essential” travel between Singapore and China will open next week, allowing some flights to resume between the two countries after a four-month hiatus due to the coronavirus pandemic, according to officials. A Singapore Foreign Ministry statement released late Friday said that travel will initially be allowed between Singapore and six Chinese cities and regions, including Shanghai and Guangdong. Though the two countries have reported the most coronavirus cases in East Asia, Singapore believes “the prevention and control of Covid-19 and the economic and social recovery” in both to have “entered a new phase.” While the majority of China’s 84,160 reported coronavirus cases were diagnosed early in the year – after the virus first emerged in the Chinese city of Wuhan before spreading around the world – Singapore’s caseload has increased 33-fold since April 1, with thousands of foreign workers infected.

Face masks ’79-per-cent effective’ in slowing coronavirus 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.

Malaysia’s ex-leader Mahathir expelled from own political party – dpa international

KUALA LUMPUR — In the latest twist to a turbulent six-decade career in politics, Malaysia’s former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad was sacked on Thursday from the political party he co-founded in 2016. A statement from the United Indigenous Party of Malaysia, known by its Malay acronym Bersatu, said that 94-year-old Mahathir’s membership had been “revoked with immediate effect” Mahathir, who was party chairman, was fired along with four other parliamentarians for not supporting Malaysia’s government, which is headed by Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, the Bersatu president. The five lawmakers took to the opposition benches during a brief May 18 parliamentary sitting. Mahathir, who was first elected to parliament in 1964, was the world’s oldest government leader before he unexpectedly quit in February.

Singapore to spend a fifth of GDP on curbing economic impact of virus – dpa international

KUALA LUMPUR — Singapore will spend an additional 33 billion Singapore dollars (23.2 billion US dollars) to offset the economic impact of coronavirus, Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat announced in parliament on Tuesday. The revised fiscal plan is the wealthy city-state’s fourth budget announcement since February and takes total spending pledges to just under 100 billion Singapore dollars – equivalent to almost 20 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP). Labelling the projected spending as a “fortitude budget,” Heng, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s deputy, said the outlay is necessary due to the “unprecedented uncertainty” caused by the pandemic. Earlier on Tuesday, Singapore’s Ministry of Trade and Industry said that GDP shrank 4.7 per cent in the first quarter of the year – indicating that the pandemic ravaged the trade-dependent economy even before the lockdown was imposed in April.

Malaysian PM self-isolates after possible exposure to coronavirus – dpa international

Muhyiddin Yassin seen giving a speech at an anti-government rally in Kuala Lumpur in November 2016 (Simon Roughneen)

KUALA LUMPUR — Malaysia’s Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin tested negative for Covid-19 on Friday but will spend the next two weeks in self-isolation after attending a meeting involving an official who later tested positive for the disease. A Friday statement by the Prime Minister’s Office said that Muhyiddin, who took office in March, “is required to undergo a quarantine at home for 14 days beginning this afternoon.” The meeting took place on Wednesday, the office stated, without identifying the attendees aside from Muhyiddin. Malaysia has confirmed 7,137 coronavirus cases and 115 related deaths. Over 80 per cent of those infected with the coronavirus have recovered.

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.

Malaysian Catholics in the dark over reopening of churches – dpa international

Sanitiser and sign-in notebook at the entrance to a Kuala Lumpur Catholic church (Simon Roughneen)

KUALA LUMPUR — Malaysia’s Catholic bishops said on Friday that they have not been informed by the government about proposals to allow some non-Muslim places of worship to reopen for ceremonies from June 10. Defence minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob said on Thursday that 174 churches and temples will be permitted from June 10 to allow up to 30 Malaysian worshippers attend services, as part of a relaxation of curbs imposed in March to stop the spread of Covid-19. A Friday statement by the Archdiocese of Kuala Lumpur said that it had “received no further news apart from what was released to the public” and that it did not know which churches could be reopened on June 10.