Asian Insider, Jan 15: Sulawesi quake kills 34, why Asian govts are cautious on Covid-19 vaccines

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

Hi all, 

In today’s bulletin: Why Asian governments are being cautious on Covid-19 vaccines, powerful quake rocks Indonesia’s Sulawesi island, Muhyiddin can’t be ousted while emergency is in place, Duterte says presidency no job for a woman, and more.

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Why Asian govts are approaching Covid-19 vaccines with caution

In stark contrast to Western nations that have rushed to inoculate their populations with the new Covid-19 vaccines, Asian governments are taking their time to grant regulatory approvals for the shots that can finally end the pandemic. Their cautious approach may seem strange given the urgency to resume normal life, but low infection rates mean that they can wait to see how the unprecedented vaccination drives play out elsewhere.

India has introduced an app called CoWIN (Covid Vaccine Intelligence Work) that will be the "backbone" of the exercise to vaccinate its vast population, India bureau chief Nirmala Ganapathy reports. Through the app, authorities will SMS those who have registered to get vaccinated, and officials can use the app to track each dose of the vaccine, have a clear picture of how many are in stock, and even the temperature of the storage. 

In Indonesia, the health minister has said companies may be allowed to procure their own Covid-19 vaccines and inoculate their staff, in order to help reduce the burden on the state. Indonesia currently buys and distributes vaccines for free at an estimated cost of about US$5.3 billion (S$7 billion). The head of Indonesia's business chamber said it had requested that some firms be allowed to import approved vaccines or buy government supplies.

More Covid-19 vaccine news: 

China's Sinopharm vaccine safe for children and teenagers: State media 

India to treat home-grown Covid-19 vaccine same as AstraZeneca's 

Vaccination drive poses big test of Indonesia's state capacity

At least 34 killed as powerful quake rocks Indonesia

A powerful earthquake rocked Indonesia’s Sulawesi island early on Friday (Jan 15), killing at least 34 people, levelling a hospital and severely damaging other buildings. Hundreds more were injured when the 6.2-magnitude quake struck, triggering panic among residents of the island, which was hit by a huge quake and tsunami that killed thousands in 2018. 

The quake was felt strongly for about seven seconds but did not trigger a tsunami warning. Videos showed residents fleeing to higher ground on motorcycles, and a child trapped under the rubble as people tried to remove debris with their bare hands. Indonesia’s disaster agency said a series of quakes in the past 24 hours had caused at least three landslides. 

In Pictures: Indonesia's Sulawesi island rocked by strong earthquake

Virus round-up: S.Korea’s new hotbed, China discourages travel

A South Korean missionary school that is emerging as a new hotbed for Covid-19 infections is under fire for obstructing contact-tracing officials, South Korea correspondent Chang May Choon reports. More than 700 cases have been traced to the BTJ Centre for All Nations in the rural Sangju city as of Thursday, and that number is feared to spike in the days ahead. 

In the Philippines, authorities have extended a ban to Jan 31 on all travellers from more than 30 countries and territories where a more contagious Covid-19 variant has been detected, Philippines correspondent Raul Dancel writes. The ban includes travellers from Singapore, the United States, Britain, Japan, Australia, France, Germany, South Korea and China.

In China, local governments and employers are offering a slew of incentives to persuade workers not to make the traditional trip back to their hometowns for the Chinese New Year holiday, fearing Covid-19 cases, lost profits and possible lockdowns. The World Health Organisation-led team probing the virus’ origins will start meetings online from quarantine

Over in Australia, the country is on course to record its second straight day of zero local coronavirus cases, helped by its tougher restrictions on public movement and internal borders. New Zealand will start quarantine-free travel from the Cook Islands next week, though those based in New Zealand will have to wait until later in the year to visit the islands.

Get the latest Covid-19 updates at our dedicated website.

China’s economy is beating the rest of the world

China is set on Monday to report gross domestic product rose 2.1 per cent in 2020, the only major economy to have avoided a contraction, according to economists. This would mean that its share of the world economy rose at the fastest pace this century. China's economic ascent is accelerating barely a year after its first coronavirus lockdowns, as its success in controlling Covid-19 allows it to boost its share of global trade and investment. 

Meanwhile, its Ministry of Commerce said Beijing will complete the necessary domestic approval procedures for the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) agreement within six months. The RCEP mega trade deal signed in November by China, Japan, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand and the 10 member states of Asean creates the world's biggest free trade bloc, covering about 30 per cent of global GDP in 2019.

More key business news out of China today: 

Xiaomi shares dive 11% in Hong Kong after US blacklisting 

ByteDance's chief rival Kuaishou wins HKEX nod for US$5b IPO

M’sia’s PM, govt can’t be ousted while emergency is in effect: Gazette

Malaysia's emergency will not see any changes of government while it is in effect, according to a proclamation gazetted on Thursday, meaning that embattled Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin will remain in power despite appearing to lose his parliamentary majority this week, Malaysia bureau chief Shannon Teoh reports

This comes as the move to suspend Parliament during the emergency - which ends on Aug 1 or sooner should an independent committee decide that the coronavirus pandemic is under control - drew criticism from across the political divide, leading the opposition to explore various avenues to reverse the order that gained royal assent on Monday. 

More on Malaysian politics: 

Mahathir says DAP wanted Sabah's Shafie Apdal as Malaysia’s PM

In other news…

Philippines' Duterte says presidency no job for a woman: Philippine leader Rodrigo Duterte has declared that the presidency is no job for a woman because of their emotional differences to men, and dismissed speculation that his daughter will succeed him next year. 

WhatsApp faces first legal challenge in India over privacy: WhatsApp's updated privacy policy verges on user surveillance and threatens India's security, says a petition filed in an Indian court, presenting another legal challenge for the Facebook-owned messenger.

Beijing thinks US is flirting with possibility of Taiwan rejoining UN: China's response was predictable - a strong rebuke - when US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that the US was sending its UN ambassador on a visit to Taiwan, then followed that up by lifting restrictions on its officials' interactions with the self-ruled island. 

China may allow imports of some stranded Australian coal cargoes: China is considering accepting some stranded Australian coal cargoes, an effort that would help ease a logjam of vessels that have stacked up off its coast for months. The shipments that could be cleared are those that arrived before a ban on Australian coal went into effect.

China air quality improved in 2020: China's air quality improved last year, benefiting from Covid-19 related shutdowns as well as tougher industrial controls, government data showed. Concentrations of lung-damaging small particles known as PM2.5 in 337 cities fell an average 8.3 per cent to 33 micrograms per cubic m over the year. 

Have a wonderful weekend, and we’ll be back with more stories on Monday. 

Magdalene