Asian Insider, Feb 10: Singapore scientists plan coronavirus vaccine trial as workers in China trickle back to work

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


In today’s bulletin: Singapore's scientists hope to test vaccine in as short as three months' time as workers in China return slowly to work; South Korean film Parasite makes history by winning Best Picture at the Oscars and three other awards; and the heaviest rainfall in 30 years brings relief to Australia hit by severe bush fires.

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Singapore scientists are developing a vaccine for the novel coronavirus and plan to begin testing it in as soon as three months, the Health Ministry's chief scientist, Professor Tan Chorh Chuan, said on Monday. This is as promising anti-viral drugs such as those used to treat HIV are being used on patients here, in efforts to locate a "magic drug" against the virus. Prof Tan said the Duke-NUS Medical School is working with the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations to roll out a vaccine trial here.

300,000 masks for taxi, private-hire car drivers:

Taxi and private-hire car drivers will receive 300,000 masks to be given out to passengers who are unwell but do not have a mask and need a ride to seek medical attention, the Land Transport Authority said on Monday (Feb 10). This move and the setting up of temperature stations are to better protect these drivers.

Singapore manufacturers' concerns:

Singapore manufacturers reliant on components from China are worried about losing their customers through production, shipment and delivery delays as a result of shuttered factories and quarantined workers. They are also worried about rising production costs, given the supply shortfall and backlog that factories will need to clear once they reopen.

Illness starts mild:

Several locally infected patients with no known links to other cases had seen a doctor two or three times before they were taken to hospital because their illness started mildly with non-specific symptoms such as cough, sore throat and slight fever. These are symptoms suffered by tens of thousands of people every day and it is therefore difficult to identify those affected by the coronavirus if they have no link to China or other patients, said Professor Leo Yee Sin, executive director of the National Centre for Infectious Diseases, on Monday (Feb 10).

China returns slowly to work:

Workers began trickling back to offices and factories around China on Monday (Feb 10) as the government eased some restrictions on work and travel in the wake of the coronavirus epidemic that has now killed more than 900 people. Sunday’s death toll of 97 was the largest in a single day since the outbreak was first detected in December at a seafood market in Hubei province’s capital, Wuhan.

66 more ill on cruise ship:

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases on the quarantined cruise ship Diamond Princess off Japan almost doubled, bringing to 136 the number of infections in the biggest outbreak outside China. The operator of the ship confirmed 66 more cases, raising worries about a possible spread among the 3,600 people still on board.


South Korean social media erupted in celebration on Monday after Parasite, the dark comedy on the vast rich-poor gap in the Asian country, became the first non-English language movie to win the Best Picture award at the Oscars. It also netted three other awards including Best Director and Best Original Screenplay, in a historic first for the country.

Related story:

South Korea's Bong Joon-ho wins Best Director Oscar for Parasite


Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha acknowledged that the army needs to address mental health issues within its ranks after a rogue soldier killed 29 people in an overnight shooting in a shopping mall at a city north of capital Bangkok, reports Indochina Bureau Chief Tan Hui Yee. The suspect, a 32-year-old sergeant-major, was shot dead on Sunday morning after an 18-hour rampage.

Read more:

Singaporean was just metres way from Thai gunman, could smell the discharge as he shot victims

'Do not make any loud noises': A Thai soldier's 18-hour shooting rampage

Thai city holds vigil for 30 victims of 'unprecedented' mass shooting

Thai mall shooting survivors tracked killer via CCTV


A four-day downpour across Australia’s east coast over the weekend, the biggest sustained run of rainfall in Sydney and surrounding areas, has brought relief after months of devastating bush fires and years of drought. It doused some fires and replenished depleted dams, but also brought widespread storm damage and forecasts of more wild weather to come.

More stories:

Downpours likely to end Australia bush fires within days

Bush fires, cyclone, torrential rain hit Australia's coasts


A 17-year-old schoolboy, who was first investigated when he as 15 after he posted defaced images of President Halimah Yacob on social media and called for her to be beheaded, was detained last month for being a staunch supporter of the terror group Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), reported senior political correspondent Tham Yuen-C.


Malaysia's economy to grow 4.5% in 2020

Malaysia's economy is expected to expand by 4.5 per cent this year, Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said on Monday (Feb 10), down from the government's initial estimate of 4.8 per cent. Tun Dr Mahathir cited "challenging times" for the revision to the government's forecast, which was announced when the 2020 budget was tabled in November.

Australia, Indonesia move to implement trade deal

Australia and Indonesia announced a 100-day plan on Monday (Feb 10) to implement a long-awaited trade deal, as the two countries hailed a "new beginning" for their sometimes troubled relationship, during Indonesian President Joko Widodo's landmark visit. The two G-20 economies hope to deepen trade currently worth a modest US$12 billion (S$17 billion) a year, in a region increasingly dominated by China's economic and military might.

African swine fever outbreak spreads in Philippines

The Philippines confirmed on Sunday (Feb 9) that African swine fever infections had spread in the south of the country, which accounts for nearly a third of the nation's 12.8 million pig herd. Additional cases have also been identified in some northern provinces, the Department of Agriculture said. The world's 10th-largest pork consumer and seventh-biggest pork importer reported its first-ever African swine fever outbreaks in September 2019 in some backyard farms near the capital Manila on the northern island of Luzon.

That's all for today, thank you for reading, and we will be back tomorrow.

- Sui Noi