KUALA LUMPUR — Responding to a surge in coronavirus cases over the past week, the Malaysian Government has ordered sweeping travel restrictions, ordered most business except for shops to close, and banned foreigners from entering the country until the end of the month. In a 10pm address to the nation, Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin said that the lockdown, which includes closing mosques across the Muslim-majority country, would apply from March 18-31, during which Malaysians will not be permitted to travel abroad. “The current situation of the outbreak requires drastic action to be taken to recover the situation as soon as possible,” Muhyiddin warned, adding that essential government services and banks will remain open. Malaysia reported 125 new cases of coronavirus on Monday evening, taking the country’s total to 553, 338 of which have been traced to an Islamic ceremony held in Kuala Lumpur’s outskirts in late February that was attended by an estimated 15-16,000 people and which spawned cases among worshippers from Brunei, Cambodia and Singapore.
KUALA LUMPUR — As Malaysia’s coronavirus caseload neared 200, Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin announced in a televised speech on Friday night that all mass gatherings will be cancelled until the end of April. This includes international meetings as well as religious and sporting events, Muhyiddin said, adding that gross domestic product had contracted between 0.8 and 1.2 per cent since the coronavirus outbreak began in China, Malaysia’s biggest trade partner. As Muhyiddin was addressing the nation, the country’s Health Ministry confirmed 39 new coronavirus cases, bringing the total to 197.
JAKARTA — An annual “Durian Fiesta” in Singapore will proceed as planned this year, despite 178 cases of the potentially-deadly coronavirus in the island city-state. The event starts on March 14 and will celebrate the Southeast Asian favourite, which proponents extol as “the king of fruits.” But wiill visitors brave the risk of infection for this of all fruits, given its odour elsewhere described – in some of the more polite terms – as akin to rotting flesh, sweat-laced clothes and festering garbage. The Goodwood Park Hotel organizing the event, running between March and July, concedes that the durian, with its spiky green husk and creamy texture, is “an acquired taste.”
JAKARTA – The Maritime and Port Authority (MPA) of Singapore said that the Costa Fortuna cruise vessel will dock at the city-state on March 10. The ship, which is carrying over 2,000 passengers, including 64 Italians, was refused entry to Phuket in Thailand and Penang in Malaysia over concerns about coronavirus, as the number of cases in Italy surged. The MPA and the Singapore Tourism Board said that the ship’s passengers, who departed Singapore on March 3, could disembark as they had “completed pre-embarkation checks based on prevailing policies for travel history and temperature screening as required by the cruise line and the terminal operator prior to boarding.”
BANGKOK — As Malaysia’s political parties jostled on Tuesday to replace the coalition government that collapsed the previous day, the fate of a potentially vital economic stimulus package was hanging in the balance. Concerns about the twin impacts of the China-US trade war and the deadly coronavirus outbreak prompted Malaysia’s Pakatan Harapan/Alliance of Hope government to draft financial proposals that were due to be announced on Thursday. However the proposals have been stalled by the shock resignation of Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad on Monday and the withdrawal of his Bersatu party from the governing alliance. Lim Guan Eng, who was finance minister in the government, stated on Tuesday afternoon that Mahathir intended to publish details of the package “at a date to be announced by him.”
KUALA LUMPUR — Catholics in Southeast Asia will have to do without one of their most recognizable motifs due to the coronavirus outbreak. On February 26, the Christian holy day of Ash Wednesday this year, Catholics in Malaysia and the Philippines will have dry ash sprinkled onto their heads instead of the usual smearing of a damp grey-black ash cross. Archbishop Romulo Valles, president of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines, stated that the measures were motivated by “our concern for the well-being of our brothers and sisters” and the taking of the “utmost care and efforts towards the prevention of the spread of COVID-19.” The virus that has spread to around two dozen countries, has killed over 2,200 people, mostly in China, where the pandemic originated.
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.
KUALA LUMPUR — Leaked audio has emerged of Singaporean Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing criticizing not only his fellow citizens for hoarding but Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam for wearing a medical mask while holding at a press conference. The source of the audio is unknown, but appears to be a recording of a closed-door meeting last week at the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry. The recording, which has been widely shared on Singaporean social media, features Chan claiming that the sight of the mask-clad Hong Kong leader Lam prompted panic-buying in Hong Kong. If Singaporean officials had emulated Lam, Chan said, “our hospital system would have broken down” as there would be “no more masks.”
KUALA LUMPUR — Singapore announced its 2020 budget on Tuesday, pledging 5.6 billion Singapore dollars (4.02 billion US dollars) to assist businesses and households affected financially by the coronavirus outbreak. Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat announced the measures in Singapore’s parliament, where he said another 800 million Singapore dollars will be allocated to support “frontline agencies” that are fighting coronavirus in the city-state, where 77 cases have been confirmed. Heng warned that “the outbreak will certainly impact our economy” and said that inbound tourism and air traffic had already dropped as Chinese outbound tourism plummets. Singapore Airlines announced on Tuesday that it was temporarily reducing flights “due to weak demand as a result of the Covid-19 outbreak.”
KUALA LUMPUR — Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Wan Azizah Wan Ismail said on Sunday that a US citizen had retested positively for coronavirus after arriving on a flight from Phnom Penh. Cambodia’s Health Ministry asked its Malaysian counterpart to retest the 83 year old woman after the positive diagnosis was first announced on Saturday, marking Malaysia’s 22nd coranavirus infection.