Asian Insider, Feb 17: Trust is critical in managing a crisis like the coronavirus outbreak

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


In today's bulletin: Singapore leaders' open and transparent approach has helped foster trust that is critical in a crisis like the coronavirus outbreak even as the city-state's growth forecast for this year has been adjusted downwards as a result of it; Malaysia will make its own decision on its 5G partners based on its own security needs; and Indians last week tucked into biryani to make a political statement against the ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party.

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Information - timely, reliable and trusted - might be the best antidote to an outbreak, both of viruses and viral rumours, and the panic and anxiety these can engender, says The Straits Times editor Warren Fernandez in a special report on the Covid-19 outbreak. In the absence of this, the vacuum is inevitably filled by falsehoods and misinformation, spread deliberately or otherwise. Singapore leaders' open and transparent approach has helped to foster trust which is critical in a crisis that can be exacerbated by the loss of confidence of the public in those managing it.

Other stories in the special report

All hands on deck at public hospitals: Senior health correspondent Joyce Teo takes a look at the challenges and fears faced by healthcare staff in the line of duty, who put in extra hours as days turn into weeks and possibly into months.

Race to learn about virus: Singapore scientists raced to develop a diagnostic test kit for the virus after China published its genome, reports Science and Environment Correspondent Audrey Tan. They are now working hard to find out how patients can be treated.

What next for Singapore: Senior health correspondent Salma Khalik looks at where the future lies for Singapore, whether the outbreak can worsen and if so how it can be mitigated.

Singapore updates

New, more stringent 'stay-home' notice: A new "stay-home" notice being introduced for Singapore residents and long-term pass holders returning from China will require them to stay at home at all times for 14 days. This is stricter than the current Leave of Absence it replaces, which allows those under it to leave their homes briefly for errands such as buying food and household supplies.

Events and worship can continue with precautions: The Singapore government has assured Buddhist, Taoist, Sikh and Hindu leaders that religious events and worship at temples can continue despite the coronavirus outbreak but precautionary measures and enhanced personal hygiene must be observed. Two clusters of coronavirus cases in Singapore have been connected to religious groups.

Elsewhere in the world

Infection found after passengers leave cruise ship: In an alarming development, one of the hundreds of passengers of the Westerdam cruise ship who disembarked in Cambodia, amid assurances that the ship was disease-free, tested positive for the coronavirus after arriving in Kuala Lumpur.

HK police bust toilet-paper gang: Hong Kong police have caught two members of a gang of three that stole hundreds of toilet rolls in a city wracked by shortages caused by coronavirus panic buying. They have recovered all the stolen toilet paper.

First death in Taiwan: Health authorities in Taiwan are scouring travel histories, phone records and security camera footage in an effort to map out everyone who came into contact with a taxi driver who was Taiwan's first confirmed death from the coronavirus.

The victim, a man in his 60s from central Taiwan who died last Saturday (Feb 15), had not recently travelled overseas and had no recorded contact with any of the 19 other people diagnosed with the coronavirus in Taiwan, according to a statement from Taiwan's Centres for Disease Control.


Singapore had downgraded its growth forecast for 2020 to between -0.5 and 1.5 per cent from an earlier forecast of 0.5-2.5 per cent as the coronavirus outbreak has weakened the economic outlook for the country. The Ministry of Trade and Industry said on Monday that growth was expected to come in at around 0.5 per cent. The last time Singapore suffered a recession was 2001 when growth contracted by 1 per cent.

See also: The coronavirus epidemic could damage global economic growth this year, International Monetary Fund managing director Kristalina Georgieva said on Sunday, adding it could still grow at 0.1-0.2 per cent and that the full impact of the disease would depend on how quickly it was contained.


Malaysia's Communications Minister has said that its own security standards will dictate which companies take part in its planned 5G rollout this year, adding that his country is aware of the security concerns expressed by other countries regarding Chinese telecoms giant Huawei. The United States is leading a campaign to clamp down on the use of Chinese technology - including Huawei's - in the development of the next-generation telecommunications platform because of concerns it could be used by Beijing for spying. Huawei is among companies including Finland's Nokia and Sweden's Ericsson seeking a piece of Malaysia's 5G business.


Malaysia is looking to reach an agreement with the Vietnamese government to address the problem of encroachment into Malaysian waters by Vietnamese deep-sea fishermen. Its Foreign Minister Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah on Monday said such an agreement has already been signed with Indonesia and that the Vietnamese government has given a positive response to the matter. Malaysia last year detained 141 Vietnamese fishermen for encroaching into Malaysia's exclusive economic zone, he said.


Many Indians celebrated the Aam Aadmi Party's (AAP) win in the Delhi state elections last week by tucking into a meal of biryani in what was a political statement against the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The BJP had used the dish as a slur to attack Muslims during its election campaign, saying that the AAP had served the dish to protesters at Shaheen Bagh, a district dominated by Muslims and a key site of protest against a controversial citizenship law that critics say discriminates against Muslims, reported India correspondent Debarshi Dasgupta. Biryani, which originated from Iran, is a dish popular among Indians but associated with Muslims, with those unable to afford expensive mutton sometimes using beef, a meat prohibited among Hindus.


Indonesia's worker-unfriendly laws: Indonesia is reforming its infamously inflexible labour laws to encourage investment that would leave workers worse off, experts have said.

Death penalty call for alleged mass murderer: Japan's prosecutors have called for a 30-year-old man to be executed for allegedly murdering 19 disabled care home residents. The former care home employee did not dispute his involvement in the 2016 stabbing rampage but his lawyers have entered a plea of not guilty saying their client was suffering a mental disorder linked to his use of marijuana.

That's it for today, thank you for reading, we'll be back tomorrow.

- Sui Noi

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