Coronavirus: sharp increase in infections in Southeast Asia

Malaysia leads the region in number of cases: 1,306. With 48 deaths, Indonesia holds the sad record of coronavirus deaths. Thailand’s king remains in Germany, causing controversy at home. Philippine President Duterte wants special powers to tackle the crisis.


Bangkok (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Southeast Asian countries have imposed restrictions on their populations and banned foreigners from entering their territories following a sharp increase in the number of coronavirus (COVID-19) infections and deaths last week.

The region’s stock markets are in free fall as blockades and bans to stem the spread of Covid-19 fuel fears of a probable recession.

The region’s central banks have taken a number of steps to increase liquidity and stimulate growth, but appear weak compared to the speed of the pandemic and its economic impact.

Malaysia leads in the number of infections. Last night, the authorities confirmed 123 new cases, bringing the total to 1,306.

Of these new cases, 74 are related to a religious gathering held at the Sri Petaling mosque (Kuala Lumpur) from 27 February to 1 March. The authorities announced today that the death toll now stands at 11.

Yesterday, the army was deployed to enforce a two-week ban on travel within the country. On 16 March, Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin signed a Movement control order (MCO) for two weeks (18-31 March) and ordered the closure of all borders.

Regionwide, Indonesia holds the sad record of coronavirus deaths, 48, with 514 positive cases, most in the capital.

Jakarta Governor Anies Baswedan has declared a two-week state of emergency in an attempt to contain the pandemic. He urged businesses in the city to close their offices, including entertainment venues.

National police spokesperson Muhammad Iqbal said 465,000 police across Indonesia would disperse any public gatherings “for the sake of public safety”.

So far, President Joko Widodo has resisted calls for stricter restrictions out of concern of their  impact on businesses and the poor.

In Thailand, a spokesman for the Ministry of Health reported this morning 122 new cases of coronavirus, bringing the total to 721.

The new cases include 20 patients linked to previous cases, 10 new imported cases and 92 people who tested positive and are awaiting questioning to determine how they contracted the disease.

The decision by King Maha Vajiralongkorn to stay in Germany, where he has a second residence, has sparked controversy at home.

In Thailand, insulting the monarchy is a criminal offense with a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison, but this hasn’t stopped the hashtag #whydoweneedaking? from trending yesterday on the Internet.

This morning, the Philippine Department of Health confirmed eight new coronavirus deaths and 16 more infections. The death toll now stands at 33 with 396 confirmed cases of contagion.

Meanwhile, the Philippine Congress held a special session over the Internet to discuss President Rodrigo Duterte's push for sweeping emergency powers.

With borders closed to foreigners and tens of millions of people under home quarantine, the president wants the power to control supplies and public utilities, order businesses to help the government and pull funds from state enterprises and departmental budgets.

If approved, the granting of powers would be one of the most aggressive steps taken by a South-East Asian government to tackle the coronavirus epidemic.

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