Asian Insider, Jan 28: Wuhan alarm, Davos takeaways, China-Taiwan relations

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


In today's bulletin: We look at continuing alarm in China and elsewhere over the spread of the Wuhan virus, the key takeaways from Davos this year, the future of China-Taiwan ties after President Tsai Ing-wen's win, growing e-wallets competition in Indonesia, Air-India's search for a buyer and more.

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WUHAN VIRUS: Death toll jumps to 106, confirmed cases to 4,515

As individuals prepared to return to their offices after the long weekend to celebrate Chinese New year, China and several other countries were scrambling to prevent infections from spreading. The death toll was estimated at 106 in China while state newspaper People's Daily estimated the number of confirmed cases at 4,515. Experts believe the number could be higher.

Here's what we know:

Measures to contain the spread: China has delayed the start of the spring semester for schools and universities, after the Lunar New Year, urging citizens to reconsider the timing of overseas travel to reduce cross-border movement.

Quest for medical remedies: China has sent nearly 6,000 medical workers from across the country to Hubei Province, to deal with cases as they emerge. Meanwhile, Chinese researchers have selected 30 existing drugs, biologically active natural products and traditional Chinese medicines which may have therapeutic effects on the novel coronavirus for further tests.

Wuhan virus links in region: Cases linked to people who travelled from Wuhan have been confirmed in a dozen countries, from Japan to the United States, where authorities said they had 110 people under investigation in 26 states. Sri Lanka was the latest to confirm a case, while Thailand on Tuesday confirmed six more cases among visitors from China, bringing the country's total to 14 cases.

Update from Singapore: Two new cases of Wuhan virus have been confirmed in Singapore, bringing the total number of infected people here to seven, the Health Ministry said earlier today. With three confirmed cases within the last 24 hours, the trend of infection among Chinese nationals from Wuhan's Hubei province in Singapore is accelerating, said the ministry. This presents a heightened risk to Singapore, although there is at yet no evidence that the virus has spread in the community.

In another report, our journalists Hariz Baharudin and Prisca Ang report that Singapore is trying hard to prevent the spread of fake news.

How long will it last: The deadly new coronavirus, 2019-nCoV, that has broken out in China will afflict a minimum of tens of thousands of people and will last at least several months, researchers estimate based on the first available data.

Impact on economies, markets: The impact of the Wuhan virus outbreak on the Chinese economy should not be underestimated, given that the tragedy has hit the country at a time when it seems to be more vulnerable, writes Senior Correspondent Ovais Subhani.

More reports:

Wuhan virus: Key moments of the outbreak so far

Wuhan virus: Get the latest updates


How has China handled the Wuhan virus outbreak? What is the public mood in China? What's the one key difference between the outbreak of Sars in 2003 and the Wuhan virus now? Is the lockdown in China really a lockdown? The Straits Times US Bureau Chief Nirmal Ghosh discusses these and other critical issues with China Correspondent Elizabeth Law in the latest episode of the ST Asian Insider video series.

Catch it here: China battles to contain new coronavirus


From climate change to stakeholder capitalism, a host of topics were discussed at the hundreds of talks and panel discussions at this year's World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos. The Straits Times Editor-in-Chief Warren Fernandez shares six takeaways from the annual meet in his article.

More on Davos:

Amid fears of a looming Cold War, Davos ponders 'hot peace' instead

WTO members make progress in talks on e-commerce

Digital economy deals will create opportunities for Singapore

Visit our microsite here: World Economic Forum 2020


China did all it could to undermine the administration of Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen, after she came to power in 2016 - but to no avail. She won a second term in elections earlier this year, aided by young voters who feared that too close a relationship with Beijing could lead to a loss of their autonomy. Now Beijing will need to review its relations with Taiwan, says Global Affairs Correspondent Goh Sui Noi. China's insistence on the 1992 Consensus is no longer viable in the light of Taiwan's changed political landscape, she writes.

Read more on Taiwan:

Taiwan's future - three dangerous trends

Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen's win: Will it bring peace or conflict?

A tale of two islands - Hong Kong and Taiwan


Indonesia's multibillion-dollar digital payments industry is exploding with new players offering unbelievable discounts and promotions. There's GoPay (run by Gojek), Ovo (backed by Grab) and now Dana (backed by Alibaba's Ant Financial), along with several others. Indonesia Correspondent Linda Yulisman reports on the fight for the biggest share of the market that was US$1.5 billion (S$2 billion) in 2018, and is estimated to be worth US$25 billion by 2023.

Read more:

Grab in talks to merge Indonesian payment firms to overtake Gojek

Indonesia plans fixed fees for e-wallet transactions


WILL AIR INDIA FIND A BUYER? : India's government said yesterday (Monday) that it will sell its entire interest in the country's airline Air India. An attempt to sell a majority stake almost two years ago failed to draw any bids. A document showed March 17 as the deadline for submission of initial expressions of interest, and that any bidder must agree to assume 232.87 billion rupees (S$4.3 billion) in debt plus other liabilities. But substantial ownership and effective control of the airline must remain with an Indian entity, the government said.

NEW ZEALAND TO HOLD ELECTIONS: The country will go to polls on Sept 19 after Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern called for a general election, two months ahead of the last possible date for the ballot, to seek a second three-year term.

ACEH'S NEW FEMALE FLOGGING SQUAD: With more and more women being charged for morality crimes such as public affection or premarital sex, Banda Aceh's Sharia Implementation Unit has recruited eight women - all Sharia officers - to be floggers. Aceh follows religious law as part of a 2005 autonomy deal agreed with the central government that ended a decades-long separatist insurgency and public whipping remains a common punishment for scores of offenders.

That's it for today. Thanks for reading and we'll be back tomorrow.

- Shefali

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