Asian Insider, Feb 11: The coronavirus death toll passes 1,000; Duterte pulls out of a US military pact; and India spends big in the US ahead of a Trump visit

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

Hi,

In today’s bulletin: The coronavirus death toll passes 1,000; Duterte pulls out of a US military pact; India spends big in the US ahead of a Trump visit; Spider-man cleans-up Indonesia’s beaches and more.

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CHINA’S TOP VIRUS EXPERT SAYS CORONAVIRUS OUTBREAK MAY PEAK THIS MONTH

China's coronavirus epidemic may peak in February and then plateau before easing, the government's top medical adviser on the outbreak said. 

Zhong Nanshan, a leading epidemiologist who won international fame for his role in combating the Sars epidemic in 2003, said the situation in some provinces was already improving, with the number of new cases declining. Zhong, who had previously predicted an earlier peak, said the forecast was based on modelling and developments in recent days, as well as government action.

Meanwhile, the death toll in China flew past 1,000, accompanied by a record daily rise in fatalities of 108. While new cases dropped for the second time, the WHO warned that cases outside China could be “the spark that becomes a bigger fire”.

In other developments: On Tuesday, Chinese President Xi Jinping promised there would be no mass lay-offs as some firms cut staff. 

In Wuhan, authorities tightened restrictions at the locked-down epicentre of the outbreak, and Chinese cities banned the sale of fever, cough medicines to turn out infected patients.

Must read: Coronavirus: Transmission only via droplets and contact, say S'pore experts

See also: Is Indonesia really virus-free?

And: Coronavirus-infected woman gives birth to infant with no infection

DUTERTE SCRAPS KEY DEFENCE PACT WITH THE US

After threatening to scrap the pact last month because one of his political allies, a police chief who presided over the deadly war on drugs, was denied a US visa, the Philippine president pulled the trigger on the move on Tuesday. The pact gave legal cover to thousands of US troops who were rotated in the Philippines for military exercises and humanitarian assistance operations. American forces have provided intelligence, training and aid that allowed the Philippines to deal with human trafficking, cyberattacks, illegal narcotics and terrorism.

INDIA TO SPEND US$2.6 BILLION ON US HELICOPTERS

Ahead of US President Donald Trump’s first official visit to India, the deal brings India’s purchases from the US to US$17 billion since 2007, as the country moves away from traditional supplier Russia. The military helicopters will be used to help the Indian navy track submarines in the Indian Ocean, where China is expanding its presence.

US CHARGES FOUR CHINESE MILITARY HACKERS IN EQUIFAX BREACH

The US announced indictments of four members of China’s People’s Liberation Army for alleged involvement in the massive 2017 hack of the database of giant US credit rating agency Equifax. The hackers are accused of stealing the sensitive personal information of around 145 million Americans, in one of the world’s largest ever data breaches.

China hit back immediately, saying the military does not engage in the theft of trade secrets through the internet, and accused the US of cyber theft, surveillance and monitoring.

THAILAND’S ARMY CHIEF GIVES TEARFUL APOLOGY FOR MASS SHOOTING

Thailand's army chief apologised on Tuesday for a rogue soldier, whose 19-hour shooting rampage killed 29 people and wounded 57 over the weekend, stunning the country. At times wiping away tears, Thai Army Chief General Apirat Kongsompong said during a 90-minute press conference that the army will help compensate all the victims and their families. "I, as army chief, would like to apologise and say how sorry I am for this incident which was caused by a staff of the army," Gen Apirat said.

Must read: Facebook's 'double-edged sword' in Thai carnage

Read more: Singaporean was just metres away from Thai gunman, could smell the discharge as he shot victims

IN OTHER NEWS

An Indonesian cafe worker wanted to encourage residents of his small coastal community to clean up the town’s littered beaches. To draw attention to his cause, Rudi Hartono donned a Spider-man costume, and the response was extraordinary. Interviews in national media made Mr Hartono famous, and he was quickly able to spread awareness to Indonesia’s 17,000 islands about the danger of plastic pollution in the sea.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi's federal ruling party conceded defeat in a hard-fought state election for control of India's capital Delhi, the most significant test of his popularity after his religion-based citizenship law led to widespread protests across the country.

The highest-profile North Korean defector in the South declared himself a candidate for Parliament on Tuesday, in a move he said would demonstrate democratic freedoms in his new home. Mr Thae Yong Ho, who fled his post as the North's deputy ambassador to Britain in August 2016, has since become a prominent and outspoken critic of Pyongyang and the engagement approach pursued by the South's President Moon Jae-in.

That’s it for now - see you tomorrow,

Tom