Asia Pacific Update: March 25
In today’s edition, key developments relate to the conflict between the Trump administration’s optimism and the world’s escalating counter-measures. While President Trump has announced he wants America re-opened by mid-April, markets like India, Singapore, Indonesia, Australia, and Thailand are implementing stricter measures to combat the spread of the virus.
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Latest Disease Updates
More than 400,000 cases have been reported worldwide. As of 08:30 SGT on Wednesday, March 25, 2020 (00:30 GMT / 20:30 ET, Tuesday), 417,582 coronavirus cases have been confirmed globally, with a total of 18,612 deaths, according to John Hopkins University. While Greater China has the highest number of cases with 81,591 people infected, Italy has the highest number of deaths globally and nearly double the number of deaths in China. The toll in Italy stands at 6,820 deaths, and 69,176 infections across the country. The US has the third highest number of cases globally with 53,660 people infected.
- US relief package draws near: US Democrats and Republicans in Congress are closing in on a massive $2 trillion stimulus package to combat the economic impact of the coronavirus. The package would extend extraordinary – and unprecedented – taxpayer assistance to millions of American and foreign companies that have been hammered by the fast-moving economic crisis. If approved, the package would provide one-time cash payments to most Americans, aimed at flooding the economy with money.
- Bill includes help for US companies: The bill would also create a $500 billion lending program for companies, states, and cities, and extend another $367 billion to help small companies deal with payroll problems. It would bolster the unemployment insurance system and pump $150 billion into US hospitals. The bill has more than doubled in size in just a few days, amounting to the largest emergency stimulus package in American history.
- Global stocks surge as relief package nears: Stock markets around the world rose sharply on Tuesday to post their best day since the global financial crisis. Asia opened higher following the US lead overnight, amid hopes the US stimulus package is near. On Wall Street, the Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 11.4% – its biggest daily gain since 1933. The S&P 500 and London’s FTSE 100 had their best days since the 2008 financial crisis, rising more than 9%. The increases follow weeks of losses.
- Trump wants US “raring to go” by Easter: President Trump said Tuesday that he wants the country “opened up” by Easter — April 12 — while some experts warned of a worsening crisis. A World Health Organisation (WHO) official said that the US has the potential to become the new epicentre. These comments marked the escalation of a complicated debate in recent days over how to balance the public health benefits of coronavirus shutdowns against the broad economic pain those measures are causing.
- Millions of Americans told to stay home: More than 130 million Americans are being urged by cities and states to stay at home. According to John Hopkins university, 53,660 people have been infected with more than 13,000 new infections on Monday alone. New York state has emerged as the epicentre of the crisis nationwide with more than 25,000 cases, the highest and fastest rate of infection.
- India imposes nationwide lockdown: India imposed a “complete” lockdown for India’s 1.3 billion people on Tuesday, starting at midnight local time and lasting for a minimum of 21 days. In a national address, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said “every district, every lane, every village will be under lockdown” and it applies to all of India’s 36 states and territories. Mr Modi appealed for people not to panic – but crowds quickly mobbed stores in the capital, Delhi, and other cities.
- Singapore introduces toughest restrictions yet: All entertainment venues in Singapore including bars and cinemas will close from Thursday (March 26) until the end of April. Gatherings outside work and school will be limited to 10 people in the strictest measures introduced yet. From Wednesday (March 25) 11.59pm, residents returning from Britain and the US will have to stay in hotels to serve their 14-day stay-home notice. Breaches can incur fines of less than SG$10,000 or jail of less than six months or both.
- Tokyo 2020 Olympics postponed: The Olympic Games in Tokyo which had been scheduled to start on July 24 have officially been postponed. The IOC said the Games will be held “no later than summer 2021.” While the Games is the biggest sporting event to be affected by the pandemic, coronavirus has led to the postponement or cancellation of other sports and major tournaments including the Six Nations, Euro 2020, Monaca Grand Prix, French Open and Golf’s Masters and PGA Championship.
- China: Wuhan reported no new cases of the novel coronavirus on 24 March (Xinhua). The city has started resuming bus services after 9 weeks of lockdown. (Xinhua)
- Hong Kong: Hong Kong’s government will be sending four chartered flights to bring back 500 Hong Kongers stranded in Wuhan between 25-26 March, having received the “green code” of having no COVID-19 symptoms for the past two weeks. (South China Morning Post)
- Due to faulty government issued wristbands, at least 10 Hong Kongers returning from abroad were able to flout quarantine rules. (South China Morning Post)
- Singapore: Singapore residents returning from the UK or US will have to serve their 14-day stay home notices at designated hotels. Those returning from the two countries are the largest source of imported cases thus far. (Channel News Asia)
- Indonesia: The National Police will be able to press charges against those who continue to hold mass gatherings amidst the COVID-19 outbreak. Punishments include up to 12 months’ imprisonment or a fine up to IDR 900,000 (US$56). (Jakarta Post)
- New Zealand: The Minister for Civil Defence has declared a state of emergency in New Zealand following reports of 50 new COVID-19 cases. (NZ Herald)
- India: New Delhi has asked states across the nation to identify designated hospitals that are equipped to address the growing number of COVID-19 cases. Eight states are already setting up hospitals dedicated to helping those with coronavirus. (Times of India)
- Australia: Prime Minister Scott Morrison has announced that all non-urgent elective surgery will be suspended “until further notice” from Thursday 26 March. It follows concerns from the head of medical colleges that much needed protective masks were being wasted on cosmetic surgery. (Sydney Morning Herald)
- Japan: The Ministry of Education has issued guidelines on reducing the risk of Coronavirus in schools to prevent an increase in infections when they reopen in April. Measures include well-ventilated classrooms and avoiding seating clusters (Japan Times). The country will also be banning foreign travelers from 18 European countries and Iran to curb the spread of COVID-19. (Japan Times)
- South Korea: Local authorities are urging people to avoid going to see the spring flowers in full bloom due to fears of spreading COVID-19. In order to dissuade people from visiting, the nearby Gyeonghwa station and 11 entrances to the venue have been shut. (The Korea Herald)
- Thailand: Face masks will be compulsory for all train users as Thailand ramps up its social distancing rules (Bangkok Post). 100 travelers were denied entry into Thailand, with 73 failing to provide sufficient paperwork, such as health certificates and insurance to meet special immigration measures to combat the coronavirus. (Bangkok Post)
Business response & impact
- Unilever to shield its workforce from financial impact: Consumer goods giant Unilever is introducing measures to protect its workforce from the financial impact of coronavirus by continuing to pay contractors and other part time staff for up to three months. The plan covers employees, contractors and others managed by the company or who work on its sites on a full or part-time basis. Unilever is also donating soap, sanitiser, bleach and food worth 100 million euros.
- US lifts sanctions on Malaysian firm: Washington has lifted sanctions on a Malaysian glove manufacturer. The US is struggling with a shortage of personal protective equipment to deal with the outbreak of the coronavirus in the country. Malaysia is the world’s biggest producer of medical gloves, according to news agency Reuters and the US is the world’s biggest consumer of that these products per person.
DAILY FOCUS: Retail vs online shopping
As part of our daily monitoring of the latest developments and impact on businesses, each day we will take a deeper dive into one sector. Today, we look at retail and online shopping – tracking national and international coverage over the past fortnight.
- Social distancing is having an impact on both physical retail and online shopping, but has actually boosted sales for ecommerce and online retailers.
- While Singapore’s shopping malls are offering free parking until further notice to attract customers, mall operators in Indonesia and Thailand are temporarily closing. Some malls are partially open in Malaysia. Shopping malls in South Korea seem little affected by COVID-19.
- Australia reported a rise in retail spending in February of 0.4%, likely to be a result of panic buying.
- The Hong Kong government is launching a US$271m cash relief for retailers. In Australia, the owners of the Queen Victoria Market in Melbourne are offering rent relief. There is increasing pressure from trade bodies to demand rental rebates in Malaysia.
- In Australia, several local brands have closed their stores. A household consumer goods retailer has closed it stores in Malaysia, but reported increased in sales in Australia. An international tech giant has shut its physical retail stores outside of China and has urged customers to continue to shop online.
- Across the APAC region, online retailers continue to report significant increase in sales with the two leading ecommerce firms in Singapore jostling for top position in Southeast Asia. Households in Vietnam are shopping groceries and FMCG online, leading to triple digit growth. A major supermarket chain in New Zealand is seeing significant increase in sales. Online retailers in Malaysia are expecting greater demand with the imposition of the government’s Movement Control Order. Thailand Post is offering concessional rates to promote more online shopping.
- In Indonesia and the Philippines, many are going online shopping for daily essentials for the first time and needing guidance on how to shop, electronic payment, contactless delivery and tipping.
- There is growing concern among retailers that changes in shopping habit will be here to stay, with traditional retailers most affected.
Media analysis of stories covering the following countries: Australia, New Zealand, Cambodia, Hong Kong, Japan, Malaysia, South Korea, Philippines, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand, Vietnam between March 10 – 24.
About COVID-19 News Roundup:
- The content of this news bulletin is a summary of publicly available news articles on events and developments related to COVID-19.
- The views and opinions reflected by these headlines do not necessarily represent those of Weber Shandwick.