In today's bulletin: South Korea, Japan fret as coronavirus infections spread; Singapore to get first shipment of Pfizer-BioNTech's vaccines by month-end; Indonesian President Joko 'Jokowi' Widodo's son and son-in-law set for bigger role in politics; a Malaysian report says Kuala Lumpur may proceed on High-Speed Rail project without Singapore; Wuhan after a year, and more.
South Korea, Japan fret as coronavirus undermines leaders' support
South Korea and Japan grappled with a growing number of coronavirus cases, increasing pressure on authorities and undermining support for the leaders of the two countries.
Schools in around Seoul have been ordered closed from tomorrow as the country battles the worst spike in infections since February this year. And President Moon Jae-In has seen his ratings slide as clusters of new infections stoke further criticism of his administration.
A sharp increase in cases in Japan, meanwhile, led Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga to call for a meeting today to discuss measures to contain the virus. For the first time, Japan saw nearly 3,000 new infections on Saturday, while Tokyo recorded 621 cases. Under pressure, the government has decided to suspend a travel subsidy programme dubbed "Go To Travel" from Dec 28 to Jan 11 nationwide, even though the PM had said earlier that this was not a possibility.
Singapore to ease restrictions on Dec 28; vaccines to be made free
Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced the Republic will enter phase 3 of its reopening in two weeks, enabling social gatherings of up to eight people - up from five now - and an increase in capacity limits in malls, attractions and places of worship.
Singapore will get the first shipments of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine by end-Dec, making the country among the first to get the vaccine. And there will be enough vaccines for all by Q3 2021, he said.
The government has also decided to make the Covid-19 vaccines free for all Singaporeans and long-term residents who are currently here and those at greatest risk will be given first priority. Vaccinations will be voluntary.
Jokowi's son & son-in-law set for bigger role in politics
President Joko 'Jokowi' Widodo's son and son-in-law are set for a bigger role in politics after winning the recent regional elections in their constituencies. marking a new chapter in dynasty politics in the country.
While Mr Gibran Rakabuming Raka, the son of the President, is set to be the mayor of Solo city in Central Java, Mr Bobby Nasution, his brother-in-law is poised to become the new mayor of Medan, the provincial capital of North Sumatra.
Indonesia Correspondent Linda Yulisman says the 33-year-old son has been charming the residents of Solo with his hands-on management style that he learnt from his father - who was the city's mayor from 2005 to 2012. While Regional Correspondent Arlina Arshad reports that Mr Bobby has been making his mark, showing he is quick in understanding issues and swift in making decisions.
Will Malaysia's High-Speed Rail project proceed without Singapore?
An unverified report on a Malaysian news site suggesting Malaysia is planning to proceed with the High-Speed Rail project (HSR) without Singapore's involvement and might end the line from Kuala Lumpur in Johor, Malaysia instead of Singapore's Jurong East, has led to fresh speculation on the future of the landmark project.
Singapore and Malaysia are in discussions on the twice-delayed HSR project, which has a Dec 31 deadline as its last extension before officials take a decision on its status.
The speculative report appeared in The Malaysian Insight (TMI) news site. It said the Malaysian Cabinet decided last Friday that Malaysia will not continue working with Singapore on the project.
The HSR project was first announced in 2010, and was touted as being able to cut the travel time between KL and Singapore to 90 minutes, compared with more than four hours by car, writes Malaysia Correspondent Hazlin Hassan.
Wuhan one year on: A city of resilience, scars
Nearly a year after a mysterious pneumonia appeared in a Wuhan seafood market, life has largely returned to normal in the central Chinese city, even as the rest of the world battles the deadly pandemic, shares China correspondent Elizabeth Law, after making her third trip to the central Chinese city this year.
Beneath the veneer of normalcy, scars remain: in the masks that have become commonplace, the use of "health codes" to enter places, and the missing family members around dining tables, she writes. And the economy, having staged a remarkable comeback earlier in the year, is now struggling to keep up the momentum, she reports.
In other news…
Malaysia's ex-PM Mahathir teams up with former rival ahead of final vote: Malaysia's former two-time Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad has entered into an agreement with his former rival of 30 years, Umno lawmaker Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah, ahead of a crucial vote on the Perikatan Nasional (PN) government's 2021 budget on Tuesday (Dec 15). Addressing a press conference today, Tun Dr Mahathir and Tan Sri Tengku Razaleigh, the most senior MP from government party Umno, said that they are willing to "contribute" their expertise to developing Malaysia should the budget fail at its final committee stage voting on Tuesday.
China fines Alibaba, Tencent unit under anti-monopoly laws: China's antitrust watchdog fined Alibaba Group Holding and a Tencent Holdings unit over a pair of years-old acquisitions and said it's reviewing an impending Tencent-led merger, signaling Beijing's intention to tighten oversight of internet sector deals.
New Zealand agrees on a two-way 'travel bubble' with Australia early 2021: New Zealand agreed today on a quarantine-free travel with Australia in the first quarter of 2021, nearly a year after it locked down its borders to protect its population from the novel coronavirus. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the Cabinet had agreed in principle on a trans-Tasman, quarantine-free travel bubble pending confirmation by Australia's Cabinet and no significant change in circumstances in either country.