Asian Insider, March 25: India lockdown, Malaysia extends movement restrictions, Sikh temple attacked in Kabul

Asian Insider brings you insights into a fast-changing region from our network of correspondents.

Hi,

In today’s bulletin: India goes into lockdown, Malaysia extends movement restrictions, Sikh temple attacked in Kabul, Singapore assures goods supply, Asia stocks rally, and more.

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LARGEST LOCKDOWN ON THE PLANET STARTS IN INDIA

The world’s second most populous country started a lockdown on Wednesday that, if unsuccessful, will see “many families destroyed”. Narendra Modi put his cards on the table on Tuesday, India Bureau Chief Nirmala Ganapathy reports, urging citizens to isolate themselves at home - something that may not be possible for the poorest living in India’s sprawling urban centres. 

The ominous tone of Modi’s message, which gave India just hours to prepare for the lockdown, was a stark warning to what is one of the most densely populated areas on the planet. Millions of destitute live in packed urban spaces with a weak public health system, and the outbreak could be much worse than in other regions.

The unprecedented move to keep 1.3 billion people indoors for three weeks is the world’s largest and most severe measure yet, and is a last ditch effort to contain the virus which has so far infected over 500 Indians and killed ten. 

There may, however, be hope for India. The country’s young population will likely be able to cope with the virus better than Italy did, with its ageing demographic. Also, India has experience beating polio and smallpox epidemics.

Read more:

Fake news keeping pace with spread of coronavirus in India

Poor Indians flee to villages as coronavirus measures take heavy toll

MALAYSIA’S MOVEMENT RESTRICTIONS EXTENDED TO APRIL 14

Malaysia extended its movement restrictions to April 14 as new cases continued to climb despite the country being on lockdown for a week, writes Malaysia Bureau Chief Shannon Teoh. With 172 new cases on Wednesday, the country has the highest number in southeast Asia at 1,796 cases and 19 deaths.

In Asia, these numbers are exceeded only by China, South Korea and Japan.

During the first week of movement restrictions, compliance with the order to stay home was only 60%, so the army was deployed to enforce the order, taking the compliance up to an improved but far from ideal 90 per cent. 

The spike in numbers this week was expected as authorities tracked-down and tested the remaining 4,000 Malaysian attendees of a religious gathering which was the virus epicentre in the country.

Meanwhile, as millions of Malaysians face an economic crisis, a much-awaited “people oriented” stimulus package was promised to be announced on Friday.

Malaysia correspondent Trinna Leong writes: Missteps by Malaysia's new govt in managing early days of lockdown

Don't miss: KL health chief warns of tsunami of cases if curbs are flouted

GUNMEN ATTACK SIKH TEMPLE IN KABUL, 25 KILLED

Islamic State claimed responsibility after gunmen attacked a Sikh-Hindhu temple in Afghanistan’s capital Kabul on Wednesday, killing at least 25 people and injuring 8. The attackers were killed by security forces and 80 people were rescued, officials said. 

Comprising only around 300 families, the tiny Sikh minority in Afghanistan has been attacked before. In 2018 a suicide bombing targeting the Sikh community also claimed by the Islamic State militant group killed more than a dozen people in the eastern Afghan city of Jalalabad.

Wednesday’s attack came a day after the United States said it would cut its aid to the government by US$1 billion (S$1.45 billion) over frustrations that feuding political leaders could not reach an agreement and form a team to negotiate with the Taleban.

Read also:

Ashraf Ghani sworn in as Afghan president; rival holds parallel inauguration ceremony

Probe into Afghan war abuses 'must go ahead'

ASIA STOCKS RALLY ON US STIMULUS DEAL, STI UP 3.5%

Stocks in Asia extended a rally on Wednesday on news that the Trump administration had struck a deal with Senate Democrats and Republicans on an historic US$2 trillion (S$2.9 trillion) rescue package to curb the coronavirus pandemic's economic toll.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average soared more than 2,100 points, or more than 11 per cent, notching its biggest one-day percentage gain since 1933 and its best point increase ever.

Must read:

Wall Street dazed and confused after US stock market meltdown

SINGAPORE WORKING WITH 6 COUNTRIES TO MAINTAIN SUPPLY OF ESSENTIAL GOODS AMID CORONAVIRUS LOCKDOWNS

Singapore will work closely with six other countries to identify and address trade disruptions caused by the coronavirus pandemic that could affect the flow of essential goods.

In a joint ministerial statement issued on Wednesday, the countries - including Australia, Canada, Chile, New Zealand, Myanmar and Brunei - said they will ensure that trade lines via land, air and sea remain open for the flow of goods and essential supplies.

Read also:

Countries are starting to hoard food amid coronavirus fears, threatening global trade

Parliament: Coronavirus cases to rise as more overseas Singaporeans return home, says Gan Kim Yong

IN OTHER NEWS

AS TOURISM PLUMMETS IN THAILAND, ELEPHANTS ARE OUT OF WORK TOO: A sudden drop in foreign tourists has forced the closing of dozens of elephant parks and similar tourist attractions, putting more than 1,000 elephants in Thailand out of work and endangering their futures, operators of the attractions said. Feeding an elephant can cost as much as US$40 (S$58) a day - more than three times the minimum daily wage in Thailand.

AUSTRALIA STRONGLY OBJECTS TO CHINA’S INDICTMENT OF WRITER: Australia strongly objects to the formal indictment of Chinese-Australian writer Yang Hengju, who continues to be held in "unacceptable" conditions, Foreign Minister Marise Payne said on Wednesday. Yang, a former Chinese diplomat turned online journalist and blogger, was formally arrested in August 2019 on suspicion of espionage, seven months after he was originally detained in the southern city of Guangzhou. Espionage is punishable by death in China.

BANGLADESH TO FREE JAILED OPPOSITION LEADER BEGUM KHALEDA ZIA: The Bangladesh government said it was freeing opposition leader Khaleda Zia from for six months so she can get medical treatment. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and Zia are bitter rivals whose families have dominated Bangladesh's politics since independence in 1971.

 

That’s it for today, thanks for reading and see you tomorrow.

Tom

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