Malaysia to try counter virus impact with huge 58bn-dollar stimulus – dpa international

Beggars on otherwise near-empty streets during lockdown in Kuala Lumpur (Simon Roughneen)

KUALA LUMPUR — Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin said on Friday that Malaysia aims to spend 250 billion ringgit (58.2 billion US dollars) to counter the health and economic impacts of the coronavirus pandemic. Speaking on national television, Muhyiddin said the “people’s economic stimulus package will benefit everyone.” With the economy at a standstill since a lockdown was imposed by the government on March 18, the prime minister pledged around a third of the funds to support hard-pressed businesses and promised one-off cash payouts to a range of groups, including unmarried low-income earners, pensioners and bottom-tier civil servants. A recent dip in prices for export commodities such as palm oil could leave Malaysia hard-pressed find the money to pay for its mammoth stimulus, which equates to just under a sixth of the country’s estimated 370-billion-dollar gross domestic product (GDP).

Producers say Malaysia’s lockdown could cause medical gloves shortage – dpa international

Inside a Kuala Lumpur shopping mall during Malaysia's anti-virus lockdown (Simon Roughneen)

KUALA LUMPUR — Manufacturers in Malaysia, the world’s biggest source of rubber gloves, warned on Monday that a government-imposed lockdown could result in a worldwide shortage of the protective equipment needed in combatting the coronavirus pandemic. The government has put the country under lockdown until the end of the month, forcing most businesses to close except for “essential” services. However the Malaysian Rubber Glove Manufacturers Association (MARGMA), an industry body, said its members have been forced by the lockdown to operate at half their usual capacity. The restrictions, the association said, have “led to a shortfall of gloves around the world,” prompting the group to urge the Malaysian government “to allow the rubber glove industry to operate at 100 per cent so that we can meet the surge in demand for rubber gloves from many parts of the world.”

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.

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.

Malaysians tagged as Asia’s worst plastic polluters – dpa international

Plastic packaging in a Kuala Lumpur mall (Simon Roughneen)

KUALA LUMPUR — A report published on Monday listed Malaysians as the biggest per capita users of plastic packaging in a region responsible for more than half the plastic litter in the world’s oceans. The report by the World Wide Fund For Nature (WWF) covers China, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam, which together account for “around 60 per cent of plastic debris entering the ocean.” The average Malaysian uses 16.78 kilograms of plastic packaging each year, according to WWF estimates, with Thailand next at 15.52 kg per person per annum. “Rapid economic growth has led to an immense increase in the use of plastic, especially for packaging consumer goods,” the WWF stated, linking plastic use with rising affluence across the region.

Malaysia’s durian farmers fret over virus fallout – dpa international

Durian-flavoured ice-cream is becoming more popular in parts of Asia (Simon Roughneen)

KUALA LUMPUR — Malaysia’s hopes of exporting 500 million ringgit (120 million dollars) worth of durian a year to China could be stalled by the deadly coronavirus outbreak that has killed more than a thousand people. With much of central China under lockdown and commerce slow to revive after the Chinese New Year, Malaysian growers are noticing falling demand and prices. “People are not working in parts of China, people are not going out, not spending – demand is down,” said Jimmy Loke, owner of Jimmy’s Durian Orchard in the region of Pahang, east of Kuala Lumpur. Prices in the region have dropped by “around a quarter” since the outbreak, Loke said.

In jab at India, Pakistan pledges to buy more Malaysian palm oil – dpa international

KUALA LUMPUR — Pakistan plans to import more Malaysian palm oil to make up for losses incurred since India imposed informal restrictions on Malaysian imports last month. Speaking alongside visiting Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan today, Malaysian Premier Mahathir Mohamad said Pakistan is “quite ready” to import more of the commodity from Malaysia. Khan in turn thanked Mahathir for speaking out against New Delhi’s policies in Kashmir, a disputed Muslim-majority region divided between India and Pakistan, and said his country will “try its best to compensate” Malaysia for India’s apparent retaliation. Mahathir has also accused the Indian government of discriminating against Muslims.

We’re not the world’s rubbish bin, Malaysian minister says – UCA News

KUALA LUMPUR — Malaysia’s environment minister Yeo Bee Yin announced on Jan. 20 that her country has returned almost 4,000 tonnes of plastic rubbish to mostly Western countries in recent months. “We do not want to be the garbage bin of the world,” the minister said, warning would-be sending countries to “dream on” if they expect Malaysia to recycle their rubbish for them. The cost of repatriating the rubbish from Malaysia will be borne by sending countries and shippers, Yeo said, echoing her counterparts in the Philippines and Indonesia, countries that have also reacted furiously to the trade in foreign plastic rubbish and sought to make senders pay for shipping their garbage back to where it came from. Since China banned the import of plastic waste for recycling in 2017, Southeast Asia has become a magnet for the largely-illegal trade, while images of fields of plastic rubbish bobbing on turquoise seas and of stinking plastic-engorged landfills have fueled concerns about a worldwide “plastics crisis,” with China, estimated to be the world’s biggest source of plastic pollution, becoming the latest country to ban single-use plastics on Jan. 19. This stern “polluters-will-pay-a-price” message is the subject of a new study by the World Economic Forum and PwC, one of the world’s “Big Four” accounting firms. Not only are polluters likely to see their good names tarnished or face financial sanctions, businesses and governments are shooting themselves in the foot by damaging the environment upon which some commercial activity depends.

New power plants blamed for turning Mekong River blue – The Times

PHNOM PENH – With horror images showing fields of plastic rubbish bobbing on turquoise seas around the world, one could be forgiven for welcoming the sight of one of the world’s great rivers turning a fresh blue. However the azure hue seen in recent weeks along stretches of the Mekong is stirring concerns that dozens of hydroelectric dams, the biggest of which are in China, are interrupting the river’s natural flow and blocking sediment that should be carried to farmland downriver that helps feed 60 million people. Earlier this month the Mekong River Commission, a regional intergovernmental body, put the colour change down to “extremely low flow, slow drop in the river sediments,” after warning last month that the Mekong region could face serious drought over the turn of the year.

Life-giving Mekong dying a slow death – Asia Times

BANGKOK — A confluence of drought and dams along the Mekong River has renewed concerns about the future of the 4,763 kilometer waterway, upon which tens of millions of people depend for their livelihoods in Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam. The number of dams impeding the Mekong’s flow is fast multiplying, drying up segments of the once fast-flowing river and leaving the region facing imminent drought, according to the Mekong River Commission (MRC), a regional intergovernmental body that aims to jointly manage the river’s water resources. “China’s operators of the Jinghong Dam and the Thai operators of the newly opened Xayaburi dam in Laos conducted operations that actually exacerbated the drought,” said Brian Eyler, director of the Southeast Asia program at the Stimson Center, a US think tank. “Those dams and more than 70 others now operational in Laos and China all contribute to deteriorating downstream conditions related to the drought.”