Asian Insider, March 26: More stimulus packages rolled out, life under lockdown in India, Christchurch shooter pleads guilty

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


In today’s bulletin: Singapore pumps S$48 billion into the economy, Malaysia looks to bolster its patch, life under lockdown in India, a run on chloroquine, Christchurch mosque shooter pleads guilty and more...

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Governments in the region stepped up relief packages this week, with Singapore and India announcing details of their efforts to staunch the bleeding from the coronavirus pandemic, and Malaysia due to announce a plan on Friday.

Singapore is setting aside a further S$48.4 billion to support businesses, workers and families. Deputy Political Editor Royston Sim reports that this comes on top of the $6.4 billion in measures that it announced just over a month ago to cushion the fallout from the Covid-19 outbreak.

In all, the city state is dedicating nearly S$55 billion to combat the coronavirus or about 11 per cent of its GDP, Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat said on Thursday when he unveiled the Supplementary Budget.

Read more:

President Halimah gives 'in-principle support' to draw on past reserves for 2nd coronavirus aid package

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Malaysia needs to flood the market with liquidity in its stimulus package on Friday (March 27) having doubled a two-week shutdown of a parched economy that has been crippled by the coronavirus outbreak, analysts said on Thursday.

Malaysia Bureau Chief Shannon Teoh reports that official and market estimates of over 4 per cent growth for 2020 have been binned, as economists are being forced to make a raft of assumptions in projecting how badly the country - also hit by a price crash that has more than halved the price of fossil fuels - will be battered by what Barclays called "a perfect storm" in its quarterly outlook.

Malaysia reported 235 new coronavirus cases in its biggest daily surge on Thursday, with total cases now at 2,031. The virus has killed 23.

Regional Correspondent Leslie Lopez reports: Malaysia considers setting up asset management entity to bail out troubled businesses

Read also: Malaysian PM, ministers, deputies give up two months' pay to coronavirus fund


Locking-down 1.35 billion people has proved to be as difficult as one would expect. Chaos has ensued across India as people started panic-buying and authorities struggled to enforce unclear rules on who could be out and about. Prime Minister Modi’s government struggled to ensure that deliveries of vital items continued, and the country’s largest online retailer Flipkart suspended delivery of everything except food as it struggled to move people and goods. Also, most bank branches will close during the lockdown. India Correspondent Debarshi Dasgupta reports on how Indians are coping with daily needs under lockdown. 

The government also appeared unable to protect the poorest, as millions of people lost their jobs. Most have little in savings. India Bureau Chief Nirmala Ganapathy reports that millions of people living in the country’s slums are physically unable to adhere to social distancing measures, while migrant workers find themselves out of work and unable to go home to their villages. 

As India saw coronavirus cases rise to 649 with 13 deaths on Thursday, the government stepped in with a 1.7 trillion rupee (S$32.5 billion) economic stimulus plan. It features direct cash transfers and food security measures aimed at giving relief to millions of poor. The government also hinted that more measures were coming.

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It is yet unproven, but a belief that a drug commonly used to control inflammation could be a ward against the coronavirus has triggered a run on it, making it tough for patients suffering from illnesses such as lupus and arthritis to find relief.

Indochina Bureau Chief Tan Hui Yee writes that chronic patients such as teacher Wun Pyae Thidar, a lupus patient from Myanmar's Taungoo city, have had difficulties securing supplies of the anti-malarial drug chloroquine and its derivative hydroxychloroquine.

The 28-year-old and her mother, who has rheumatoid arthritis, are long-time users of hydroxychloroquine, which used to be easily available.

But over the past two weeks, the drug started disappearing from the shelves of pharmacies.

Go deeper:

Indonesia produces chloroquine, anti-malaria drug tested as possible treatment for coronavirus

Fake cures, risky rumours: coronavirus misinformation hits home


The Australian man accused of killing 51 worshippers at two mosques in New Zealand in March last year entered a surprise guilty plea in court in Christchurch on Thursday, and admitted to 51 charges of murder.

Brenton Tarrant, who appeared by video link, entered his pleas at a special, hastily arranged High Court hearing in Christchurch on Thursday morning.

He also pled guilty to 40 charges of attempted murder and a terrorism charge.

Tarrant has been in police custody since March 15, 2019, when he was arrested and accused of using semi-automatic weapons to target Muslims attending Friday prayers at two mosques in Christchurch.The attack was streamed live on Facebook.

The court will sentence Tarrant on all 92 charges, but did not provide a date for that sentencing.

See also:

New Zealand security response to mosque attacks spurs debate

Look Back 2019: Mass murder sparks social media change


HANOI CHEF MAKES ‘CORONABURGERS’: Laughing in the face of the global pandemic, Chef Hoang Tung and his team now spend their days moulding dozens of green-tea stained burger buns complete with little "crowns" made of dough to resemble microscopic images of the virus. The shop has sold around 50 burgers a day, despite the growing numbers of businesses in Vietnam which have been forced to close because of the virus.

HONG KONG POLITICIAN ARRESTED FOR ‘SEDITION’ OVER FACEBOOK POST: Hong Kong police on Thursday arrested an opposition politician under a colonial-era sedition law for allegedly sharing the identity of an officer who fired a baton round that blinded a journalist during protests last year. Police said they arrested 60-year-old Cheng Lai-king on suspicion of "action with seditious intention".

SINGAPORE ECONOMY SHRINKS, FULL-YEAR GROWTH FORECAST SLASHED: Singapore’s economy looks headed for its first full-year recession in about two decades amid mounting border controls and lockdowns around the world from the escalating coronavirus outbreak. The last time Singapore registered a full-year contraction of its economy was in 2001 during the bust when growth fell by 1 per cent.

That’s it for today, thanks for reading and see you tomorrow.