In today's bulletin: Asia trounces US in health-efficiency index, Thailand eases travel curbs, SIA to resume daily flights to US, global chip shortage threatens production of laptops and smartphones, and more.
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Asia trounces US in health-efficiency index amid pandemic
Asian economies led by Singapore, Hong Kong and Taiwan have topped a ranking of the world's most-efficient healthcare systems, amid the coronavirus pandemic. Brazil and Russia joined the United States in the bottom tier.
The Bloomberg Health-Efficiency Index tracks life expectancy and medical spending to determine which healthcare systems have the best outcomes. This year's results include the impact of Covid-19 on mortality and gross domestic product in 57 of the world's largest economies. These measures helped many Asian territories improve their standing on the list since their generally aggressive coronavirus responses kept cases and deaths relatively low.
China, the world's most-populous nation, ranked 25th using the pre-pandemic formula, but jumped to No. 12 when adjustments for Covid-19 were incorporated. India does not meet the minimum metrics, though it is among the nations hardest hit by the pandemic.
In Covid-19 news:
Complex operation as countries start gearing up for Covid-19 vaccine rollout
Coronavirus nearly three times more deadly than flu: Study
Thailand eases travel curbs, SIA to resume daily flights to US
Thailand is easing travel curbs on visitors from 56 countries, including Singapore, Japan and the US, in a bid to boost its ailing tourism sector. Tourists are allowed to enter Thailand without prior visas but will need a health certificate to prove they are free of Covid-19, and undergo a 14-day quarantine upon arrival, during which they will receive three virus tests.
From Jan 18, Singapore Airlines will resume daily non-stop flights from Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New York's JFK International, amid "promising signs for recovery in international air travel, particularly with the start of the vaccine inoculation programme". Americans are also allowed to transit in Singapore, which was initially not the case.
More on travelling during the pandemic:
Mandatory Covid-19 vaccines for travel would 'kill the sector', says tourism lobby head
US Navy to be 'more assertive' in countering China in Pacific
The US military has warned that its warships will be "more assertive" in responding to violations of international law, citing in particular Beijing, which has extensive claims in the South China Sea.
In a document setting objectives for the US Navy, Marines and Coast Guard for the coming years, the Pentagon stressed that several countries, notably China and Russia, "are contesting the balance of power in key regions and seeking to undermine the existing world order". It referred to China as "the most pressing, long-term strategic threat".
Meanwhile, Japan will develop new "stand-off" anti-ship missiles that can target warships at greater distances around its south-western Okinawa island chain, including disputed islets in the East China Sea that China also claims. The missiles will allow Japan to expand a strategy meant to stop foreign forces from operating freely in waters close to home territory.
Global chip shortage threatens production of laptops, smartphones and more
Makers of cars and electronic devices from TVs to smartphones are sounding alarm bells about a global shortage of chips, which is causing manufacturing delays as consumer demand bounces back from the coronavirus crisis.
The problem has several causes, including bulk-buying by US sanctions-hit Chinese tech giant Huawei, a fire at a Japanese chip plant, Covid-19 lockdowns in South-east Asia, and a strike in France. More fundamentally, there has been under-investment in 8-inch chip manufacturing plants owned mostly by Asian firms, industry executives and analysts say.
Meanwhile, the US is set to add dozens of Chinese firms - including China's top chipmaker SMIC - to a trade blacklist. The US Defence Department will soon start soliciting proposals for a programme aimed at boosting semiconductor manufacturing capabilities in the US, to reduce the country's reliance on chip foundries that are mostly located in Asia.
Ant Group stops selling online deposit products amid regulatory scrutiny
Alibaba's Ant Group has stopped allowing individuals to deposit funds with banks via its online platform Alipay, amid regulatory demands to fend off financial risks. The move comes as China's regulators warn of closer scrutiny on the financial arms of the country's big tech giants that have been offering high-yield deposits at local banks on its apps.
Ant has "voluntarily removed" the online deposit products from Alipay "in accordance with the recent regulatory requirements for online deposits services," the firm said, adding that the change will not affect those whose money is already deposited with banks via Alipay.
More Alibaba news: Alibaba says it won't allow its tech to target, identify ethnic groups
In other news…
Australia names new trade minister amid China tensions: Australia Prime Minister Scott Morrison has named Education Minister Dan Tehan as the new trade minister in a Cabinet reshuffle amid rising tensions with China. Australia's relations between China, its largest trade partner, soured after Canberra called for an independent investigation into the origins of the coronavirus.
Panama-flagged cargo ship capsizes off Vietnam, 15 sailors missing: At least 15 sailors were missing on Thursday (Dec 17) after a Panama-flagged cargo ship capsized in rough seas off Vietnam, Vietnamese state media said. The incident happened off the central province of Binh Thuan when the Xin Hong with 11 Chinese and four Vietnamese sailors onboard was transporting 7,800 tonnes of clay from Malaysia to Hong Kong.
Japan ex-PM Abe questioned by prosecutors over unreported political funds: Japan's former prime minister Shinzo Abe has been questioned by Tokyo prosecutors, broadcaster TV Asahi reported, citing several unnamed lawmakers of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party. Domestic media said prosecutors had asked Mr Abe to report for voluntary questioning in a case they were building against his secretary over unreported political funds involving as much as 40 million yen (S$514,000).
That's it for today. Have a brilliant weekend, and we'll be back with you on Monday.
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