Asia Is Still Not Out of the Woods Yet
The second wave of infections have started to spread across Asia and it has put a hold on any possible economic growth.
It’s been a week since Singapore’s government has announced they will tighten measures to curb the spread of the Covid-19 virus. Under Phase 2 (Heightened Alert), which will take place from May 16 to 13 June, there will be a nationwide ban on dining-in at restaurants and a cap of gatherings to only two people. Previously, companies were allowed to have up to 75% of their employees return back to the office, this means working from home (WFH) was not the default mode anymore. Over the past few weeks, however, several clusters of infections have emerged and coupled with a pattern of local unlinked community cases, the government has once again called for companies to allow its employees to WFH if telecommuting is possible.
The highly-anticipated travel bubble with Hong Kong, first scheduled to start last November was pushed back and it was announced that May 26 will be the new start date. In light of the outbreak of community cases, the launch will be deferred for the second time. “Both sides… agreed to defer the launch of the air travel bubble to protect the health of travellers and the public in these two places,” said the Ministry of Transport in a statement. “A further announcement will be made on or before June 13.” Apart from the Singapore-Hong Kong travel bubble, the World Economic Forum has also announced that it is cancelling its special annual “Davos” meeting in the city-state in August. The two much-awaited events were the beacon of hope that the ailing tourism industry was hoping to capitalise on after being closed off due to the lack of tourists into the country. However, it seems that the tourism industry will have to wait out for a bit longer before it could restart again.
For the first quarter of the year, Singapore’s economy expanded by 0.2% year-on-year after three consecutive quarters of contraction. However, the tougher restrictions will no doubt stall the country’s growth as various sectors are expected to be hit hard. This is especially so for the food and sports industry. The retail sector will be indirectly affected due to the restrictions on the number of patrons that can enter shops that are either located in shopping malls or standalone. Furthermore, the government has also discouraged people from going out for non-essential reasons.
Across Asia, there seems to be a trend towards a resurgence of the coronavirus and India being affected the most with infection cases hitting hundreds of thousands every day. The variant strain from India has also found its way across the continent, creeping into countries in Southeast Asia where the healthcare systems are increasingly getting overstretched and unable to cope with the rapid rise in cases. Across the region, clusters have been found in places where defences are weakest such as hospitals, quarantine facilities and border crossings. Lapses within those places enabled the virus to spread through the community. To curb the spread, Malaysia and Cambodia declared lockdown, Vietnam increased the quarantine period for incoming travellers and Thailand has banned dining-in at six at-risk provinces; masks are now mandatory in the kingdom. It remains to be seen how the economies in Asia will fare for the next few months.