Calm and consternation coincide in Malaysia’s anti-virus shutdown – dpa international

Food delivery couriers - such as this one stopping in the shade of Kuala Lumpur's Petronas Towers - were busy around Kuala Lumpur on Wedneday with restaurants are limited to takeaway or delivery and citizens urged to stay at home during Malaysia's part-lockdown (Simon Roughneen)

KUALA LUMPUR — An uncanny hush hung over the usually bustling streets of Kuala Lumpur on Wednesday as Malaysia began a two-week partial lockdown aimed at reversing an alarming recent surge in coronavirus cases to nearly 800. “Sometimes it takes an hour, now the streets are nearly empty,” said Roslee Mohamad, who had just parked after a short drive between two downtown shopping malls in Malaysia’s commercial capital. The government’s measures, announced Monday night and in effect until March 31, include the banning of foreign visitors and the shuttering of most businesses except for “essential services.” Inside Pavilion, one of the city’s swankiest malls, most shops were closed except for grocery stores and pharmacies, while customers are barred from dining in restaurants. “We are just open for takeaway,” said Janet Unite, cashier at a cafe inside the mall.

Malaysia reports first deaths linked to Covid-19 as case numbers near 700 – dpa international

Woman selling sanitary masks in Kuala Lumpur on March 17 2020, the day before Malaysia goes into a two-week lockdown (Simon Roughneen)

KUALA LUMPUR — Malaysia reported its first deaths on Tuesday evening from Covid-19, the respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Local authorities in Sarawak on the Malaysian part of island of Borneo said that a 60-year-old pastor died in hospital in Kuching, the regional capital. Some 193 close contacts of the deceased have been put under home quarantine, the Sarawak State Secretariat Disaster Committee stated, though the source of the dead man’s infection is unknown. By evening the national Health Ministry announced a second fatality – a 34-year-old male who was among an estimated 15,000-16,000 people who attended an Islamic ceremony held on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur at the end of last month.

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.

Malaysia to impose lockdown after coronavirus case numbers swell – dpa international

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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. 

Malaysia’s coronavirus case number nearly doubles as Singapore adds new travel curbs – dpa interntional

Sign on a doorway at Kuala Lumpur pharmacy (Simon Roughneen)

KUALA LUMPUR —  Malaysia’s Health Ministry declared a near-doubling of its confirmed cases of coronavirus, recording a jump of 190 positive diagnoses for a region-high total of 428 as of Sunday evening. The ministry stated that “most of the new cases” are linked to an Islamic ceremony held in Kuala Lumpur’s outskirts in late February that was attended by an estimated 15,000 people. Cases linked to the event first emerged in Brunei last week and then in Singapore, which as of Saturday night had reported 212 cases of coronavirus. The three countries’ health ministries have appealed for people who attended the event to come forward for testing and to provide information about contacts and travel. Sunday’s surge in coronavirus cases in Malaysia was by far the biggest daily increase seen across the 10-country Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) since the outbreak began.

Malaysia bans mass gatherings, Singapore curbs travel from virus-hit Europe – dpa international

With concerns growing about the possible spread of Novel Coronavirus, facemasks are an increasingly-common sight in cities such as Kuala Lumpur (Simon Roughneen)

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.

Singapore hotel going ahead with durian festival – dpa international

Durian for sale in Singapore (Simon Roughneen)

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.”

Pledging billions to address coronavirus impact, Mahathir says Malaysian parliament to decide next prime minister – dpa international

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KUALA LUMPUR — Malaysia’s interim prime minister Mahathir Mohamad said on Thursday that the country’s parliament will reconvene next week to settle who will run the next government, with elections possible if lawmakers cannot decide. “If the Dewan Rakyat (parliament) fails to find anyone with a majority we will have to go to a snap election,” he added. 112 seats are needed for a majority. Mahathir teamed with long-time rival Anwar Ibrahim to win Malaysia’s last elections in 2018, agreeing to hand the leadership to Anwar by May 2020. But Mahathir later stalled on the promise, leading to renewed rivalry between the two. Three parties have backed Anwar’s bid to be prime minister, after previously working under Mahathir as part of the government that fell on Monday. With two major opposition parties calling for elections, Mahathir could struggle to regain the premiership. “At this moment I don’t have the power to form a cabinet,” Mahathir said. “Whoever wins I will accept.”

Coronavirus means Ash Wednesday restrictions for Asia’s Catholics – dpa international

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.

Singapore to spend over 4bn dollars to dampen coronavirus impact – dpa international

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.”