Asian Insider, Jan 8: Covid-19 surges in Asia, global stock benchmarks drop Chinese telcos

Hello there, 

In today’s bulletin: Covid-19 infections soar in parts of Asia, China state media spotlight US Capitol insurrection, South Korean court orders Japan to compensate former sex slaves, global index providers MSCI, FTSE Russell drop Chinese telcos, and more. 

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Covid-19: New highs in M’sia, Tokyo under emergency, Brisbane in lockdown

Malaysia’s Covid-19 cases may hit 8,000 daily in March if its infection rate rises, a top health ministry official has warned, amid expectations of stricter movement curbs in several parts of the country. Malaysia reported another record high of 3,027 new cases on Thursday (Jan 7), after logging the previous high of 2,525 cases only a day earlier. 

In Japan, a state of emergency kicked in on Friday over Tokyo and its three neighbouring prefectures, Kanagawa, Chiba and Saitama, amid a surge in the number of coronavirus infections. It will last until Feb 7. The tougher measure came after Tokyo set a new high of 2,447 cases on Thursday – a 53 per cent jump from the previous record just a day earlier. 

Australia’s city of Brisbane has been put under lockdown after the discovery of a case of Britain’s virulent new coronavirus variant. The country has detected several cases of the variant but this is the first infection to appear outside its quarantine system. 

Meanwhile, China’s Covid-19 outbreak in Hebei province surrounding Beijing appeared to be coming under control, while public health experts in Hong Kong are warning authorities to wait for zero or much lower numbers of new daily local cases before easing the city’s tough social distancing measures. 

Get the latest Covid-19 updates at our dedicated website.

Storming of US Capitol reflects leadership failures: China state media

The storming of the US Capitol by President Donald Trump’s supporters reflects leadership failure and the deep divide running through American society, editorials in China’s state media said, denouncing US politicians’ double standards as they step up a war of words against the United States. 

As calls grow for Mr Trump’s immediate removal from office, the president has for the first time appeared to concede the election, condemning the earlier violence and promising to ensure an orderly transition of power, US bureau chief Nirmal Ghosh reports. 

The Capitol insurrection and the Republicans’ loss of the party’s majority in the Senate have shaken up America. The Democratic victory in the Senate could signify fundamental political shifts, and the unprecedented violence at the Capitol may also give the Republican Party an opening to distance itself from Mr Trump. 

Related: Facebook, Instagram to block Trump’s accounts 

Also read: China says US to pay ‘heavy price’ if UN ambassador goes to Taiwan

S.Korean court orders Japan to compensate former sex slaves

A South Korean court has ordered the Japanese government to pay compensation of 100 million won (S$121,000) each to 12 World War II sex slaves or their families, in an unprecedented ruling likely to infuriate Tokyo. 

This is South Korea’s first civilian legal case against Tokyo by wartime sex slaves for Japanese troops, who were euphemistically labelled “comfort women”, and the ruling comes despite a 1965 treaty between Seoul and Tokyo that declared claims between them and their nationals had been settled. 

Delve deeper: Historical documents show Japan’s role in WWII sex slaves 

MSCI, FTSE Russell drop Chinese telcos

Global index providers MSCI and FTSE Russell will cut three Chinese telecom companies from their benchmarks in response to a US investment ban. The deletions of China Mobile, China Telecom and China Unicom Hong Kong add to a suite of firms already dropped from indexes due to the US sanctions. 

The move will likely require passive investors, such as index tracking funds, to sell the stocks. The shares of all three firms fell heavily on Friday, wiping out nearly US$10 billion (S$13 billion) in value by the midday break in Hong Kong, in the clearest illustration yet of the investment fallout from the US rules. 

But as US investors rush to dump shares in the Chinese firms blacklisted by outgoing US President Donald Trump, bargain hunters in China are swooping in, wagering that a Joe Biden presidency will reverse the investment ban.

Four Indian states report cases of bird flu

Four states in India have reported avian influenza outbreaks, with some districts in Kerala culling birds to stop the spread of the disease. Concerns about bird flu are likely to hurt poultry businesses across the country in the next two to three quarters. 

Some states, including Rajasthan, Kerala and Himachal Pradesh, have recently seen unusual deaths of poultry, crows and migratory birds, the Department of Animal Husbandry and Dairying said, adding that the federal government has asked local authorities to boost surveillance around water bodies, live bird markets, zoos and poultry farms. 

In other news…

North Korea’s Kim vows to expand diplomacy: North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has explored ways to renew inter-Korean ties and vowed to expand foreign relations at the eighth congress of the ruling Workers’ Party. The rare party congress comes amid a prolonged gridlock in negotiations aimed at dismantling the country’s nuclear and missile programmes in return for US sanction relief. 

No charges against the dozens arrested in Hong Kong: Charges have not been laid on the dozens of pro-democracy activists arrested in Hong Kong, with most granted bail after an overnight detention. Only three were denied bail. Meanwhile, three other democracy supporters have received up to five and a half years in jail for their involvement in a protest at the city’s airport where a mainland state media reporter was tied up and assaulted. 

Over 48,000 people evacuated in Malaysia to escape floods: More than 48,000 people in six Malaysian states were sheltering in 400 relief centres on Friday to escape rising floodwaters as monsoon rain continues to lash parts of the country. Apart from those evacuated in the east coast states of Kelantan, Terengganu and Pahang, and eastern Johor, several dozen people were evacuated from rural areas in Perak and Sabah states. 

Indonesia’s top terrorist convict Abu Bakar Bashir released from prison: Indonesia’s top terrorist convict Abu Bakar Bashir, the spiritual leader of South-east Asia’s Jemaah Islamiah terror group, has been released from prison. The radical cleric, 82, had been in jail since his arrest in 2009. He was in 2011 sentenced to 15 years in prison for funding a training camp for terrorists in Indonesia’s westernmost province of Aceh. 

Toxic air in India linked to large number of miscarriages: Toxic air in India and other South Asian countries could be causing large numbers of miscarriages and stillbirths. A study in The Lancet medical journal has estimated that nearly 350,000 pregnancy losses a year in South Asia were linked to high pollution levels, accounting for 7 per cent of annual pregnancy loss in the region between 2000 and 2016. 


Have a restful weekend, and we’ll bring you more insightful reads next week. 


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