Southeast Asian countries yesterday considered more emergency powers to tackle the threat of the coronavirus as Singapore Airlines said it was grounding almost all of fleet in the face of the “greatest challenge” it has ever faced.
The virus has infected about 3,700 people across Southeast Asia, with nearly 100 deaths, more than half of them in Indonesia.
The Philippine Department of Health yesterday reported 82 new COVID-19 infections, bringing the total to 462, while deaths remain at 33, but officials acknowledge limited testing for the virus means that, like Indonesia, its already overstretched health system could be facing far more infections than the numbers indicate.
Governments are scrambling to raise their defenses with border closures, entry bans and lockdowns.
The Philippine Congress held a special session to consider allowing the government powers, including taking control of private utilities, telecoms and transport operators or businesses in the public interest, and forcing hotels and other venues to accommodate medical workers or quarantine people.
“It is a step we were reluctant to take, but the circumstances and the experience of nations worldwide convinced us that we have no other choice,” Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea told a near-empty Congress, with most lawmakers streaming the session at home.
Duterte’s party has a supermajority in both chambers, so the bill is are expected to pass, although the opposition is concerned about the scope of the powers and potential for abuse.
The Philippines was the first Southeast Asian country to adopt lockdown measures, but more are following suit as cases soar, with Vietnam and Malaysia deploying soldiers to help with quarantines or to enforce curbs on travel and gatherings.
Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin said the government might consider extending movement restrictions by up to two weeks, and would announce more economic stimulus to soften the blow from the virus and weak oil prices.
Indonesia’s capital, Jakarta, has joined Thailand and Cambodia in shutting bars, movie theaters and entertainment spots.
Indonesia national police spokesman Muhammad Iqbal said 465,000 police across the nation would disperse any public gatherings “for the sake of public safety,” although a photograph posted on social media of a packed commuter train in Jakarta quickly went viral.
Indonesia yesterday reported 65 new cases of the virus, bringing the total to 579, while its death toll rose by one to 49, Ministry of Health official Achmad Yurianto said.
Indonesian President Joko Widodo yesterday said that doctors and other medical staff would receive bonuses ranging from 5 million to 15 million rupiah (US$300 to US$900) per month in regions that have declared an emergency. Aside from Jakarta, the East Java region has also declared an emergency.
Widodo has so far resisted calls for tougher lockdowns due to concerns about the impact on businesses and the poor, many of whom are vendors plying their trade on the streets.
Thailand reported 122 new cases, taking its total to 721, a Ministry of Health spokesman said.
Singapore reported 23 new cases on Sunday, taking its tally to 455, while the scale of the disruption was brought home when Singapore Airlines yesterday said it was cutting capacity by 96 percent and grounding almost all of its fleet.
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