Demand for Singapore’s pharma output surges during pandemic – dpa international

Masks and sanitisers for sale in Kuala Lumpur (Simon Roughneen)

KUALA LUMPUR — A huge jump in sales of pharmaceuticals saw Singapore’s exports expand by 9.7 per cent year on year in April amid the coronavirus pandemic, though overall trade declined. Enterprise Singapore, a government agency, said that Singapore’s exports of pharmaceuticals to the European Union and Japan rose by 467 per cent and 864 per cent respectively compared to the same period a year ago. Dutch bank ING attributed Singapore’s April exports surge to the new coronavirus, saying on Monday that “the global pandemic has lifted pharmaceuticals to be the star-performer.” April was the third consecutive month in which Singapore’s exports grew. However most sectors – including electronics, which typically makes up around 30 per cent of exports – saw declines.

Singapore’s home help migrants face ‘hidden plight’ due to Covid-19 – dpa international

KUALA LUMPUR — A lockdown imposed in Singapore to stall the spread of the new coronavirus has led to increased incidences of domestic helpers being overworked or abused, according to a group that operates a helpline for migrant workers. The Humanitarian Organization for Migrant Economics (HOME) said on Friday that calls to the helpline had jumped by 25 per cent since the restrictions were introduced on April 7. Most businesses were closed, forcing Singaporeans to work from home. In turn, some domestic workers – often young women from neighbouring countries such as Indonesia and the Philippines who cook and clean for the city-state’s well-to-do families – face “increased work hours as employers are home at almost all hours of the day, leading to an increase in household and caregiving duties,” HOME stated.

Singapore’s national airline records first-ever annual loss – dpa international

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KUALA LUMPUR — Singapore Airlines reported a net annual loss of 212 million Singapore dollars (149 million US dollars) for the year to March 31, the first time in the carrier’s 48-year history that it failed to earn an annual profit. The airline’s revenue was down nearly a billion dollars on 2019, when it posted a 683-million-dollar profit. The carrier put the reversal largely down to the impact of the new coronavirus pandemic – which halted most international travel even before Singapore’s government closed the country’s borders and imposed a lockdown on April 7. “Market conditions deteriorated abruptly in February,” Singapore Airlines noted in a statement. The airline signalled in March that it would be forced to temporarily ground 96 per cent of its capacity due to the pandemic.

Singapore’s virus 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. 

Singapore shuts another airport terminal due to coronavirus – dpa international

KUALA LUMPUR — Citing “the sharp decline in flight movements because of the global Covid-19 pandemic,” Changi Airport in Singapore said on Tuesday that it will temporarily close its Terminal 4 from May 16. Flights from the hub will be restricted to Terminals 1 and 3 – as well as Jewel Changi Airport, effectively a fifth terminal. Airport authorities had earlier suspended use of Terminal 2. One of the world’s busiest airports and usually a busy waystation for travellers en route from the Asia-Pacific region to Europe, Changi was on Monday was voted “World’s Best Airport” for the eighth consecutive year in the Skytrax World Airport Awards.

Singapore’s coronavirus caseload tops 20,000 as pandemic batters business – dpa international

KUALA LUMPUR — Singapore confirmed 788 new coronavirus cases on Wednesday, taking the total to 20,198, the second-highest reported number in East Asia after China. The ministry stated that the “vast majority” of the new cases “are work permit holders residing in foreign worker dormitories.” Singapore has the world’s fourth-highest gross domestic product per head, according to an International Monetary Fund ranking, and depends on 1.4 million foreign workers – 320,000 of them living in cramped dormitories that have become virus hotbeds – to help run its open economy. Singapore diagnosed its first case of Covid-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, as far back as January 23. The wealthy and trade-dependent city-state was in March lauded for keeping case numbers relatively low, even as the pandemic spread around the world – with just 1,000 confirmed by April 1.

Singapore debates sale and slaughter of wild animals in wet markets – dpa international

Frogs for sale in a Singapore wet market (Simon Roughneen)

KUALA LUMPUR — Singapore will consider banning selling and killing live animals in wet markets, the country’s environment minister told the legislature on Tuesday. The practice is common in parts of East and South-East Asia, but has come under scrutiny due to the possibility that the new coronavirus pandemic could have originated in a wet market in Wuhan, China – or in a nearby laboratory. In Asia, a wet market is typically a bustling open-air bazaar where freshly caught fish and meat and new vegetables are sold. Amy Khor, Minister of State for Environment and Water Resources, said that “international benchmarking and scientific evidence” would be used to determine the risk of transmission of dangerous viruses due to the practice.

Singapore’s March sales slump hints at worse to come – dpa international

KUALA LUMPUR — Singapore’s retail sales fell by 13.3 per cent year-on-year in March, a sign that the new coronavirus pandemic was walloping the economy even before a government-imposed lockdown in April. The March sales slump in South-East Asia’s richest nation came on the back of a collapse in international travel, which typically brings visitors keen to splash out in Singapore’s array of plush malls. The Department of Statistics, which published the data on Tuesday, attributed the decline to “weaker domestic consumption and fewer tourist arrivals as a result of the Covid-19 outbreak.”

Defying the odds, 102-year-old Singaporean recovers from Covid-19 – dpa international

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

KUALA LUMPUR — A 102-year-old woman became Singapore’s oldest Covid-19 survivor on Friday, joining a handful of centenarians worldwide who have beaten the disease. After Yap Lay Hong returned to the Lee Ah Mooi Old Age Home after being discharged from Tan Tock Seng Hospital, the home said on Facebook: “We welcome home our residents who fought hard to recover and overcome [Covid-19].” Yap Lay Hong’s recovery put her among the almost 1,300 people in Singapore to have recovered from Covid-19, the respiratory disease caused by the new coronavirus. Though centenarians in Britain, Italy and the Netherlands have made headlines after surviving Covid-19, worldwide fatality data suggest that the elderly are highly-vulnerable to the disease, making up the bulk of the 230,000+ recorded deaths.

Covid-19 spurs Singapore’s biggest unemployment jump since SARS – dpa international

Burmese migrant workers in Singapore's Peninsular Plaza, a popular meeting point for workers from Myanmar who live in the city-state (Simon Roughneen)

KUALA LUMPUR — Pandemic-stricken Singapore has seen its steepest drop in employment since the Severe Acute Respiratory System (SARS) outbreak of 2002-3. On Wednesday, the Ministry of Manpower announced that 19,900 jobs were shed during the first quarter of 2020, many of them in “consumer-facing food & beverage services and retail trade, and tourism-dependent accommodation,” which the ministry stated were among the sectors “most severely affected by the Covid-19 outbreak.” The job losses exceed those seen during the global financial crisis of 2008-9, when trade and investment-dependent Singapore was the first East or South-East Asian country to fall into recession. Singapore has the world’s fourth-highest gross domestic product per capita, according to International Monetary Fund rankings, and its overall unemployment rate remains a low 2.4 per cent.