Asian Insider, April 20: Singapore cases hit new high, New Zealand keeps tight rules as South Korea loosens up, Facebook chases e-payment market in Indonesia

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

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In today’s bulletin: Singapore registers a new daily high number of 1,426 cases, New Zealand extends lockdown amid lower number of cases while South Korea loosens its social distancing rules, Japan's megabanks vow not to finance new coal plants amid climate action pressure, and more.

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Singapore saw the single highest daily spike in numbers on Monday since the Covid-19 outbreak began in January in the island-state with 1,426 new confirmed cases. The majority of cases continued to be foreign workers living in dormitories while 16 of them are Singaporeans and permanent residents.

Singapore now has the largest number of Covid-19 cases in South-east Asia at 8,014, overtaking Indonesia and the Philippines.

After a second wave of cases that began in March, Singapore took stringent safe distancing measures on April 7 to break the chain of local transmissions that saw individuals served with fines of $300 to $1,000 for not observing the rules. Condo residents were not let off the hook for infringing rules within the confines of their condo grounds including not wearing masks and allowing children to play by the pool.

An online survey shows that most Singaporeans have complied with the safe distancing measures with nearly 90 per cent saying they wear a mask when they go out even when well and consciously keep a safe distance from others. However, 4 per cent said they made social visits to family and friends or met other people for recreational purposes.

See also:

McDonald's fast-food chain advised to stop operations until May 4 after seven infected employees found to have been deployed to nine outlets

In Malaysia, the government is urged to track coronavirus spread among illegal foreign workers


In the region, countries that have managed to reduce numbers of cases are adopting different approaches to managing their outbreaks.

New Zealand has decided to extend its lockdown, introduced in late March, by a week to April 27, a move that experts said could eliminate the virus completely. It took tough measures under which offices, schools and non-essential services were shut down. They have proved effective with just nine new cases of Covid-19 on Monday and no new deaths.

Over in South Korea, however, people are returning to work and crowding shopping malls, parks, golf courses and some restaurants as the country relaxes social distancing rules amid a downward trend in coronavirus cases.

A growing number of companies, including SK Innovation and Naver, have ended or eased their work-from-home policy in recent weeks.


Japan's megabanks have announced commitments, of varying degrees, to stop financing new coal power projects as global pressure ramps up on the world's third largest economy for stronger climate action, writes Japan correspondent Walter Sim.

Mizuho Financial Group, the second-largest lender, unveiled its pledges last Wednesday (April 15), followed by the third-largest Sumitomo Mitsui Financial Group (SMBC) one day later. They join Japan's largest bank, Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group (MUFG), which decided last year that it will stop providing new investments and loans to coal power plants in principle.

The moves come amid criticisms of Japan's continued dalliance with coal, by not just building new plants at home but also exporting them to South-east Asia. Last month, the country drew flak from environmentalists for keeping to its "unambitious" 2030 carbon target in updates made to its pledges under the Paris Agreement.

Read also:

Warmest oceans on record could set off a year of extreme weather


Facebook is battling for a slice of the pie in Indonesia's booming e-payment business, reports Indonesia correspondent Wahyudi Soeriaatmadja. It has approached existing digital payment companies to cooperate with and compete with major rivals including Softbank-backed OVO and GoPay, which is owned by Jakarta-based ride hailing firm Gojek.

There are 41 companies that have an e-wallet licence from Bank Indonesia in an industry where revenues are expected to grow nine-fold in the next five years.

Read also:

Australia to force Google, Facebook to pay domestic media to use content


South Korea is set to become one of eight superaged societies in the world by 2024, alongside the current five such countries, Japan, Italy, Germany, Sweden and France, and two new candidates Canada and the United Kingdom.

A superaged, also known as post-aged or ultra-aged, society refers to a nation whose elderly population accounts for 20 per cent or more of the entire population, according to a stipulation by the United Nations.

The proportion of seniors aged 65 and above came to a fresh high of 15.8 per cent in South Korea as of March, according to the Ministry of Interior and Safety.

See also:

South Korea set to break own record on world's lowest birth rate


Singaporean student and friend hurt in racist attack in Melbourne: What was supposed to be a simple grocery run turned into a nightmare for Singaporean and Malaysian undergraduates when they were verbally abused and assaulted in the heart of Melbourne, Australia last week. A video circulating on social media shows the 18-year-old Singaporean and her 20-year-old friend being attacked.

Tokyo governor's coronavirus plea inspires social distancing game: Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike's entreaty to residents to keep away from each other to halt the spread of the coronavirus has inspired a computer game of her navigating through crowds while uttering her daily "mitsudesu" call for social distancing.

Bangladesh shuts down villages after tens of thousands attend cleric's funeral: Bangladesh has tightened a clampdown on seven villages after tens of thousands attended the funeral of a popular local cleric in spite of a nationwide lockdown to control the spread of the coronavirus. The massive gathering in Brahmanbaria district, 60km east of the capital Dhaka, raised concerns over the potential for a spike in infections.

That's all for today, stay safe, we will be back tomorrow.