Asian Insider Jan 30: Human rights and politics complicate the fight against Wuhan Virus

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


In today's bulletin: We continue to focus on the Wuhan crisis, examining how human rights and politics affect efforts of containing the spread of the virus; Japan has to deal with people who refused health checks while civil protests have erupted in Hong Kong and South Korea.

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Japan Correspondent Walter Sim highlights the ugly side of human behaviour, as seen in two Japanese citizens who steadfastly refused to undergo health checks after they were flown home from Wuhan by their government. The two, who were among 206 Japan nationals on the country's first chartered flight out of the epicentre of the outbreak, had displayed no symptoms at the airport. They were "escorted home" after refusing to undergo further tests

This happened even though three people on the same flight were confirmed to be sick with the virus. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said: ""While quarantine officers did their best to persuade them to go for further tests, they refused, and unfortunately there is no legal basis to force them to do so. There are some areas that the government is reluctant to forcefully step in because it encroaches on human rights."

Meanwhile in the United States, mask hoarders are raising the risk of a Wuhan virus outbreak in the country. The hoarding by those who are well and do not need them means that hospitals, clinics and doctors' offices do not have sufficient masks.


China's National Health Commission said on Thursday (Jan 30) the total number of confirmed deaths from the coronavirus in the country has risen by 38 to 170 as of end-Wednesday, as the number of infected patients rose by more than 1,700.

As the outbreak worsens, many people and businesses in major cities in Asia are calling for an out-right ban on Chinese visitors to their countries. Already scores of shops have put up signs with messages such as "no Chinese allowed".

Hong Kong Correspondent Claire Huang reports that trade unions are threatening to go on strike unless the government closes the border with mainland China to stop the spread of the virus. Although Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam has ordered the suspension of the high-speed rail service between the city and mainland China from midnight on Thursday (Jan 30) and all cross-border ferry services, the unions said it was not enough.

In South Korea, protesters used tractors to block access to facilities earmarked as quarantine centres in the cities of Asan and Jincheon, about 80km south of Seoul. The government has proposed to keep the evacuated citizens in isolation at the facilities, usually used as training centres for public servants, for at least two weeks to ensure they do not develop symptoms.

In Malaysia, a tutor, two pharmacy assistants and a university student were arrested for spreading fake news about the virus. The four were arrested in separate operations by the police and the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) in Melaka, Kedah and Pahang states between 11am and 5pm on Wednesday (Jan 29).

Don't miss reading:

Senior Correspondent Tan Ee-Lyn's column on why she thinks that it is still too early to determine the severity of the Wuhan virus

Examples of fake news on Wuhan virus that have gone viral on social media


India Correspondent Rohini Mohan reports that while Mumbai is the first major Indian city to allow trading for 24 hours, the response was lukewarm in the first weekend after it was implemented. Most malls did not stay open at night, and those that did reported "less than average" activity.

The western state of Maharashtra, of which Mumbai is the capital, approved its "Mumbai 24 hours" policy on Jan 21, allowing malls, shops and restaurants to open 24 hours, seven days a week, if they wished to. Shops were earlier required to close by 10pm, while restaurants could remain open till 1.30am.

"We are hopeful that the new move will provide jobs and revenue to our youth," said Mr Aditya Thackeray, the state's Tourism and Environment Minister.

See also: How the world's fastest growing economy in India has plunged into stagflation


Political Reporter Fabian Koh reports that while speaking at the launch of his newest book, Professor Tommy Koh said hawker centres have "saved Singapore" as it is the one place ordinary Singaporeans can go to have a good meal at an affordable price. He was giving his reason why he had included a chapter on hawker centres, which are found in all housing estates around the island, as one of the secrets in the book, Fifty Secrets Of Singapore's Success.

Edited by Professor Koh, the book consists of 50 essays written by leaders and experts from various fields in Singapore about how the small city state has succeeded in a number of areas.

Read Professor Koh's column on what he thinks is the secret of Singapore's success.

You can purchase a hard copy of the book here, or download an e-copy on the Amazon Kindle.


Melbourne-based company AgBioEn will start construction next week on a A$2 billion (S$1.8 billion) project to turn agricultural waste into energy for use in food production. The facility at Katunga in Victoria state is the first of its kind in Australia, the company said in a media statement. Organic waste materials such as cereal straw will be converted into electricity, renewable diesel and jet fuel, and fertiliser.

"All agricultural land used to supply biomass to the facility will also be used to cultivate food crops," said programme director Lubey Lozevski. "It is a priority for AgBioEn that no agricultural land is taken away from food cultivation to create fuels."

Read more: Australian states take lead in push towards clean energy future


Facebook Inc has agreed to pay US$550 million (S$750 million) to resolve claims it collected user biometric data without consent in one of the largest consumer privacy settlements in US history. The accord, which requires a judge's approval, will avert a trial that may have exposed the social networking company to billions of dollars in damages.

Facebook fought unsuccessfully to persuade the US Supreme Court to derail the class action case. The users alleged that the company's photo-scanning technology violated an Illinois law by gathering and storing biometric data without their permission.

See also: Facebook face recognition feature to replace tag suggestions


JAPAN - Prosecutors in Tokyo issued a fresh warrant on Thursday (Jan 30) for the arrest of ex-Nissan Motor chairman Carlos Ghosn, who jumped bail and fled the country last month to escape trial for alleged financial crimes. The Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office issued the warrant on Ghosn for illegally departing Japan, where the former auto executive was charged with failing to fully report his compensation and using company money for personal gain.

UNITED STATES - Three leaders of a mega church based in the Philippines were arrested in California and Virginia on charges that they ran a human trafficking ring, one that the Justice Department said had arranged for dozens of sham marriages in the United States to support a fraudulent charity. The arrests coincided with raids at Van Nuys, California, and other church properties in Los Angeles and Hawaii by federal agents, who first started interviewing victims of the alleged human trafficking ring in 2015, the authorities said.

INDONESIA - The country has cut ties with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) as it accused the global conservation group of overstepping its mandate in the country and unfairly criticising efforts to extinguish out-of-control forest fires last year.

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See you again tomorrow.

Ooi Boon

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