Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin on Monday announced an additional 40 billion ringgit (US$9.7 billion) stimulus package, ahead of the imposition of stricter lockdown measures to curb the rapid spread of Covid-19.

The Southeast Asian nation is seeing a surge in coronavirus infections, with the number of new daily cases greater than India’s on a per-capita basis.

Malaysia saw record daily infections and deaths on Saturday, though the numbers have dipped since.

The country entered a strict two-week lockdown starting on Tuesday, with only essential manufacturing and service sectors allowed to operate.

“If drastic action is not taken immediately, it is of concern that the health care system in our country will collapse and we will face a greater catastrophe,” Muhyiddin said in a televised address.

The new aid package includes a 5 billion ringgit fiscal injection, despite the government having limited fiscal space, he said.

Since last year, Malaysia has rolled out around 340 billion ringgit in aid and stimulus measures to cushion the impact of the pandemic on the economy.

The new relief measures include 2.1 billion ringgit in handouts, loan moratoriums to some, grants to small and medium businesses, and salary subsidies for those affected by lockdown measures, Muhyiddin said.

The government will also spend 1 billion ringgit to boost health care capacity, he said.

Malaysia’s economy was on the path to recovery in the first quarter before infections began to spike.

It shrank 5.6 per cent in 2020, its worst annual performance since the Asian financial crisis, but the central bank had projected growth of 6-7.5 per cent this year.

Philippines extends virus curbs to mid-June

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday prolonged partial coronavirus curbs in the capital and nearby provinces until mid-June to contain infections that have been decreasing since hitting a peak in April.

Religious gatherings remain capped at 30 per cent of venue capacity while dining in restaurants can operate at 20 per cent in the capital region – an urban sprawl of 16 cities that is home to at least 13 million people – and nearby provinces. Non-essential travel will remain prohibited.

Daily Covid-19 cases in the Philippines averaged roughly 6,300 for May, down by one-third from April, after the government reduced operating capacity of businesses and limited the movement of people.

Duterte also extended a ban on inbound travel from India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Nepal, Oman, and the United Arab Emirates until June 15, to prevent transmission of the coronavirus variant first discovered in India that is circulating widely in that country and the region.

Travelers coming directly from those countries, or with a history of travel to any of them within the last 14 days, will be denied entry.

The Philippines has reported 13 Covid-19 cases tied to the more infectious variant known as B. 1.617.2.

The Philippines has the second-highest number of Covid-19 cases and deaths in Southeast Asia, next to Indonesia.

Vietnam suspends inbound international flights

The international airport of Vietnam’s capital suspended inbound flights from abroad beginning on Tuesday, the country’s aviation body announced, as the country grapples with a fresh wave of coronavirus outbreaks.

Vietnam’s Covid-19 cases have more than doubled in the past month and its health minister said over the weekend that authorities have discovered a highly infectious “new hybrid variant” – a combination of those first discovered in Britain and India.

While authorities promptly rolled back the assertion by clarifying that the mutation still needed to be “studied further”, alarm sounded across the country as it struggled to contain fresh outbreaks in more than half its territory.

The Civil Aviation Administration of Vietnam said in a statement on Monday that the “temporary suspension of receiving international flights transporting people” at Hanoi’s Noi Bai International Airport will last from Tuesday until June 7.

Before Monday’s announcement, the communist country had already severely limited entries of foreign arrivals, and every person coming in is subjected to mandatory quarantine for 21 days in mostly state-run facilities.

The announcement for Hanoi’s airport comes days after Ho Chi Minh City – Vietnam’s southern business hub – issued a similar halt on foreign arrivals to its Tan Son Nhat International Airport.

Tan Son Nhat’s suspension was meant to be lifted by June 4, but the aviation authority announced on Monday it would continue until June 14.

Vietnam had been lauded for its quick response early on in the pandemic last year, registering some of the lowest infection numbers in the world – with more than 7,300 cases and 47 deaths in total recorded so far. – (SCMP)


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