Asia Pacific Update: May 20
In today’s edition, key developments relate to the easing of restrictions throughout the Asia Pacific region. South Korean students have returned to high school, Singapore is poised to end its circuit-breaker restrictions at the end of the month, and Australia and New Zealand are discussing further reductions in lockdown requirements. Japan is also considering lifting its state of emergency in three of its major cities.
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Latest Disease Updates
- As of 09:00 SGT on Wednesday, 20 May, 2020 (02:00 BST / 21:00 ET Tuesday), 4,893,195 cases have been confirmed globally, with 322,861 deaths (6.5%), according to Johns Hopkins University
- The US continues to report the highest rate of infection with 1,486,515 cases, accounting for 30% of all infections globally. That’s more than five times that of Russia; currently reporting the second highest rate of infection.
- Five countries, the US, Russia, Brazil, the UK, and Spain, currently account for 53% of all cases worldwide
- US economy projected to shrink 38%: The projection by the US Congressional Budget Office (CBO) is in line with its forecast in April that the US economy would contract 40% in the second quarter, compared to the same period in 2019. Despite anticipating a pick up in the coming months, the CBO has forecast a long road to recovery that would drag on through the end of next year.
- US pharmacy returns government funds: CVS Health said it is returning the US$43.3million it received from the US government as part of the relief package for companies. CVS CEO Larry Merlo said the company did not seek out the funds but hoped returning them would provide additional support to healthcare providers facing “significant financial challenges as a result of the pandemic”.
- Singapore will end its “circuit breaker” on 1 June: Most restrictions and guidelines will still remain in place as the country looks to transition into a “new normal” phase. Only employees who can demonstrate a need to go to the office will do so, such as needing to utilize specialized systems and equipment that cannot be accessed from home.
- Back to school in South Korea: High school students in South Korea headed back to school on Wednesday, armed with masks and hand sanitizer. The Ministry of Education had postponed the start of the academic year five times. The latest delay was just last week, after the country faced an outbreak linked to clubgoers in Seoul. The return to school is part of a broader easing of distancing measures.
- No distancing on Australian airline: Qantas will not implement distancing measures when it resumes operations next month. It will offer masks and hand sanitizer to passengers but won’t be mandatory. CEO Alan Joyce said Qantas has run several full repatriation flights with no issues. Pressurized plane cabins were safer environments than other transport, he emphasized.
- Inquiry into the WHO response: World Health Organization (WHO) member states have agreed to set up an independent inquiry into the global response to the pandemic. The resolution was approved without objection by the WHO’s 194-member annual assembly meeting which was held virtually in Geneva. The US has been highly critical of its response.
- CO2 emissions fall sharply worldwide: Scientists say daily global emissions of CO2 fell by 17% at the peak of the shutdown because of measures taken by governments in response to COVID-19. China has been responsible for the biggest drop, followed by the US, Europe, and India.
- China: Mainland China’s airlines are showing signs of a recovery, even as the global aviation sector remains under severe pressure. (Nikkei Asian Review)
- India: A day after India’s COVID-19 count crossed the 100,000 mark, more than 5,200 fresh cases have been reported across the country. This represents the biggest single-day jump in infections so far. (The Times of India)
- Malaysia: Indian buyers have resumed purchases of Malaysian palm oil after a four-month gap following a diplomatic row and the coronavirus pandemic, with buying spurred by a fall in domestic inventories and discounted prices. (Reuters)
- Thailand: Thailand’s central bank could cut interest rates even further in an effort to rescue the economy following the worst quarterly contraction in more than eight years. (Bloomberg) Meanwhile, Thailand’s cabinet has approved a plan to restructure Thai Airways’ finances through a bankruptcy court. (CNA)
- Indonesia: Jakarta has extended distancing measures until 4 June, maintaining restrictions limiting public transportation and gatherings. (CNA)
- Australia: Australians in New South Wales, the country’s most populous state, will be able to go on holiday within state borders next month, when art galleries and museums will also reopen. (The Straits Times)
- New Zealand: New Zealand recorded no new coronavirus cases for the second straight day on Tuesday, but authorities said it was still too early to discuss moving the country to a “level one” alert. Cafes, shops, and restaurants were last week allowed to reopen under strict social distancing rules when the country moved to a ‘level two’ alert. (The Straits Times)
- Japan: Japan is considering lifting its state of emergency in Osaka, Kyoto and Hyogo later this week as the number of new infections in the three prefectures has remained low. (Japan Times) Meanwhile, core machinery orders, edged down 0.4% in March from the previous month, suggest a widening hit to the economy from the coronavirus. (Nikkei Asian Review)
- Vietnam: Vietnam could emerge from the coronavirus crisis with the strongest growth in Southeast Asia, but the downside risks are also high. The Vietnamese economy is still tipped to stay in positive territory in 2020 with a 1% expansion, despite the sharp slowdown from the 7% growth clocked in 2019. (The Business Times)
SECTOR FOCUS: Retail
As part of our regular monitoring of the latest developments and impact on businesses, we will regularly take a deeper dive into one sector. Today, we look at the impact on retail throughout the Asia Pacific region.
- Retail outlets and shopping malls are re-opening in the region – all adopting social distancing and disinfecting measures.
- Shopping malls in Thailand reopened on 17 May. Shoppers are now required to sign-in via an app, wear masks, complete temperature checks, go through disinfection stations, and have their photo taken upon entry. Shopping malls Central World and CentralPlaza have assigned employees to operate lifts, hoping to provide peace of mind.
- Both Singapore and Malaysia are requiring shoppers to check-in and check-out via dedicated apps to enable contact tracing and ensure premises are complying with crowd control measures.
- Retail locations are stepping up their sanitization efforts. Singapore’s Fraser Property Retail will be deploying more than 200 locally-made mobile robots with UV-C rays to disinfect their fourteen portfolio shopping malls by the end of 2020. Thailand’s Iconsiam has introduced UV-C disinfectant within the mall and in outdoor areas. In the Philippines, where malls have been open since 19 May, escalators have been equipped with UV handrail sanitizers and malls will only allow four passengers per lift.
- According to Mastercard, 80% of Asia Pacific respondents surveyed viewed contactless as a cleaner and safer payment method amidst the ongoing pandemic, a sentiment shared by merchants and shoppers. Tap-and-go transactions in Asia Pacific grew 2.5 times faster than non-contactless transactions from February to March this year.
- Japan‘s retailers have been encouraged to set aside certain hours of the day to prioritize services for vulnerable customers such as pregnant women, the elderly and those with disabilities. Food sampling has also been stopped in the region.
- Shoppers in South Korea have gone ‘revenge shopping’, a term that trended on domestic social media, following the lifting of social distancing rules. Many South Koreans returned to shopping malls and spent extravagantly after weeks of lockdown. The trend is expected to be short-lived.
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.