Asian Insider April 8: Beware the global super fungus

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

Happy Monday,

Today: A super fungus is raising alarm worldwide, Singapore and Malaysia make progress on bilateral issues, China confronts its worker safety problem and more.

TIME TO PANIC? RISE OF A SUPER FUNGUS

A bombshell of a report from the New York Times unveiled a germ known as Candida auris, which preys on people with weakened immune systems and is said to kill nearly half of patients it infects within 90 days. The report says there have been reported cases all around the world including in the US, Europe as well as Asian countries like Japan, South Korea, China, India, Pakistan and Australia.

Some scary details:  The so-called super fungus is invasive and difficult to kill. In one case in the US, a hospital had to get in special cleaning equipment and rip out ceiling and floor tiles to clean a room after a patient infected with the germ died.

The big picture:  As the report states, the big concern here isn’t just the fact that the superfungus exists but how it came to be. The Candida auris is impervious to major anti-fungal medications and it is an example of “one of the world's most intractable health threats: the rise of drug-resistant infections”.

How worried should you be?  This remains a difficult question to answer. Reports from our bureaus across Asia suggest that while health authorities appear to have been aware of the fungus for some time - a number have issued public advisories - few have found a need to warn the public in any systematic way. Whether that is down to protecting a reputation or avoiding unnecessary alarm is unclear.

FAQ on the Candida auris: What you need to know about the super fungus

COUNTDOWN: 9 DAYS TILL THE INDONESIA ELECTION

State of play: There is now only one weekend left of campaigning in the Indonesia elections and both candidates, incumbent president Joko Widodo and his opponent Prabowo Subianto are looking to finish strong. Pre-election polling in Indonesia has largely shown Mr Joko with a double-digit lead though the gap has been narrowing. Five years ago, Mr Joko won the election with a relatively narrow margin of just over 6 percentage points.

What to watch out for this week: Mr Prabowo had a show of force yesterday when he held a massive rally at the Gelora Bung Karno stadium, drawing a crowd that overwhelmed the 77,000-seat stadium. In Indonesia, this is often more an  indication of organisation than popularity but it was still an impressive crowd. Mr Joko is due to have a rally at the same venue in the coming week, setting the stage for an early head-to-head comparison.

Go deeper:

Jokowi calls for unity amid colourful show of diversity

Prabowo vows to clean up govt, win war against corruption

Stay up to date with the Indonesia election at our microsite

SINGAPORE AND MALAYSIA MAKE PROGRESS

The Transport Ministers of Singapore and Malaysia announced today that they are working on an agreement to effect the suspension of a rapid transit link project that connects the two countries, and are developing into a GPS-based instrument approach procedure for Singapore’s Seletar Airport in place of the ILS (Instrument Landing System) originally proposed.

The big picture:  The two somewhat technical announcements come amid a flurry of similar moves that de-escalate tensions on a range of sticking points ahead of a meeting between Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and his Malaysian counterpart Mahathir Mohamad tomorrow. A host of disputes had resurfaced since the 93-year-old Malaysian premier returned to power last year, including ones involving port limits, airspace and water prices and there now seems to have been some effort to lower the temperature before the high-level retreat.

Go deeper: Singapore and Malaysia working on agreement to suspend RTS Link, will develop GPS-based instrument procedures for Seletar Airport

CHINA CONTENDS WITH WORKER SAFETY

Two industrial explosions in the same province are raising some difficult questions in China about the country’s commitment to the safety of its workers. Days after a massive explosion at a chemical plant in Yancheng city left 78 dead, a blast at an automotive parts factory killed seven. The blasts prompted strongly-worded calls for safety from Chinese government leadership.

The big picture:  As China Correspondent Danson Cheong reports, while industrial safety has been a long-standing problem, the latest round introduces a new wrinkle. As China grapples with its slowest growth in decades, there is concern that officials are now less willing to force companies to close or to undertake costly remedies.

Full story: Blasts in China spark fears over safety

AND FINALLY, WILD JUSTICE

A suspected rhino poacher in South Africa’s Kruger National Park met a somewhat ironic end when he was found trampled to death by an elephant and then eaten by lions (Not this specific lion in the photo). A spokesman for the national park said the remains were located after a two-day search and a skull was the only part of the deceased that was left.

Full story: Rhino poacher crushed by elephant, devoured by lions in South Africa

IN OTHER NEWS:

Nissan Motor Co shareholders ousted erstwhile boss Carlos Ghosn as a director today, severing his last ties with the company he rescued from near-bankruptcy two decades ago and from which he is now accused of siphoning funds.  

US Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, who oversaw President Donald Trump’s bitterly contested immigration policies during her tumultuous 16-month tenure, resigned on Sunday amid a surge in the number of migrants at the border with Mexico.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo and Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad have signed a joint letter of objection to the European Union over its plan to phase out the use of palm oil in renewable fuel, an Indonesian official said.

That's it for today. Thanks for reading and see you tomorrow.

- Jeremy

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