Asian Insider, May 4: Some easing in Asia’s coronavirus fight, Kim Jong Un re-emerges, Philippines closes all airports

Hi all,

In today’s bulletin: Some easing across Asia, Kim Jong Un re-emerges, Najib Razak back in court next week, Philippines closes all airports, and more…

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SOME EASING IN CORONAVIRUS RESTRICTIONS ACROSS ASIA

In what may be a key week for some in the global fight against Covid-19, several countries across Asia started to slowly ease restrictions which have kept economies at a standstill and people at home for weeks.

Thailand, which has seen single-digit growth in new cases for the past week, opened-up Bangkok’s streets on Monday, as well as the hawker-food heaven of Chinatown. China saw a spike in outbound travellers over the Labour day weekend, with 50 per cent more people travelling outside their home cities. And in Vietnam, millions of children returned to school on Monday,

South Korea, which also saw a consistent drop in new cases recently, relaxed restrictions in mid-April and is going further this week with more easing. Shoppers and travellers crowded malls and beaches over the long weekend.

Malaysia also eased curbs on movement and business on Monday, sending thousands of Malaysians into the morning rush hour, hoping to restart a battered economy.

Singapore is taking a cautious approach, reports Political Correspondent Linette Lai. The country can consider further easing strict circuit breaker measures if the coronavirus situation improves by June 1, said Health Minister Gan Kim Yong on Monday.

Not happy with the case levels in Japan, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe decided to extend the country’s national state of emergency to May 31. Mr Abe will consider lifting the state of emergency without waiting for its expiration if expert advisors decide that is possible.

Must read: Editor-in-Chief Warren Fernandez writes about the many twists and turns in a deadly dance as the Covid-19 tune plays on.

While Assistant Foreign Editor Magdalene Fung takes a wide look at the devastation caused by the virus globally.

AFTER KIM JONG UN RE-EMERGES, NORTH AND SOUTH KOREA EXCHANGE GUNFIRE ACROSS BORDER

On Sunday, a day after Kim Jong Un ended weeks of speculation that he was either seriously ill or even dead by appearing at the opening of a factory, shots were fired across the border in the demilitarised zone.

The exchange started from the North Korean side early in the morning when multiple gunshots were fired toward a South Korean guard post. South Korea replied by firing two shots. There were no injuries.

The South Korean military later said the North Korean gunshots were “not deemed intentional” and that the two sides are in talks via a military communication line. 

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the shots fired from North Korea were believed to have been “accidental”. 

Meanwhile, two North Korean defectors who are now members of parliament in Seoul were criticised by the ruling Democratic Party on Monday after they fueled speculation that the North Korean leader Kim Jong Un was gravely ill or had died. 

Must read from US Bureau Chief Nirmal Ghosh: South Korea, Japan alliances critical for US

See also: Trump glad Kim ‘is back’ but impasse on nuke talks remains.

NAJIB RAZAK’S 1MDB TRIAL TO RESUME

As the country edges slowly back to normalcy, Malaysia announced that the 1MDB trial of former leader Najib Razak would resume next week. All the relevant parties in the trial will be called into court on May 13.

The trial is set to resume with Najib’s lawyer questioning witnesses. Najib is facing five trials, the first of which – involving seven charges linked to US$10 million (S$14.2 million) misappropriated from a 1MDB unit – is expected to reach a verdict within months.

See also: Saudi King transferred funds into Najib’s account after ‘private chat’ in Riyadh, court told.

And: Now I have chance to clear my name, says Najib Razak

Must read from Regional Correspondent In Kuala Lumpur Leslie Lopez: Fugitive Jho Low tells ST he was just an intermediary

ASIA’S FACTORY ACTIVITY SLUMPS TO RECORD LOWS AMID GLOBAL LOCKDOWNS

Factory output across several Asian countries slumped to record lows in April, signalling a deeper contraction in the world’s manufacturing hub even as China begins restarting some operations.

The factory data were another reminder that the global economic recovery from the biggest crisis since the Great Depression likely will be long and uneven. While China has started reopening factories and is ramping up infrastructure spending to support the domestic economy, the regional and global pain will probably persist for some time.

Purchasing Managers’ Indexes (PMIs) across South-east Asia slumped further below 50, the dividing line between contraction and expansion, to post their weakest readings since the series began.

Read also: China’s factories struggle amid slump in export orders

And: Asia stocks tumble as Trump revives US-China trade war fears

PHILIPPINES CLOSES ALL AIRPORTS FOR AT LEAST A WEEK

On Sunday, the Philippines closed all of its airports to commercial flights in or out of the country for at least a week, Philippines Correspondent Raul Dancel reports. The country’s quarantine capacity is near the breaking point following a recent surge in Filipino workers returning from abroad.

The decision has left hundreds of thousands of Filipinos marooned in over 40 countries dealing with their own viral outbreaks. Most have lost their jobs.

Must read: Filipinos tighten their belts for long, hard road ahead

And: Far from home amid the Covid-19 pandemic

IN OTHER NEWS

SEOUL MEN GET THEIR OWN POWDER ROOMS: A powder room for the guys is a reality in Seoul, where ordinary men, and not just celebrities, apply make-up and wear eyeliner.The market for male beauty products is huge in image-conscious South Korea, where men spent 1.3 trillion won (S$1.5 billion) on cosmetics in 2018.

AUSTRALIA PM MORRISON’S CALL FOR CORONAVIRUS INQUIRY MAY HARM LONG-TERM CHINA TRADE: The Australian government’s diplomatic tension with its largest trading partner China over Canberra’s push for a coronavirus inquiry has some of the nation’s top business leaders nervous that economic ties will become irreparably damaged.

ROHINGYA SURVIVORS TELL OF MISERY OF FAILED MALAYSIA VOYAGE: The survivors described hundreds of men, women, and children crammed on the boat, unable to move, squatting in rain and scorching sun until, as food and water ran out, they began to die of starvation, thirst, and beatings, their bodies tossed overboard. 

That’s it for today, thanks for reading and stay safe.

Tom

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