Asia News Today | Record Covid cases in South Korea, Japan and Australia add extra Russia sanctions
The Asia-Pacific region has been lagging behind other parts of the world, in regards to Covid recover, but now appears primed for a tourist and business travel comeback. Unlike most of North America and Europe, the omicron variant surge in most locations in the Asia-Pacific region still hasn’t peaked. Countries including South Korea, Thailand, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore and Vietnam are still seeing record-high daily levels of new Covid infections, several, nearly two months after most recent Omicron surge peaked in the US. And while health authorities predict that there will be a similar fast build up in cases, followed by a swift decline… record caseload but fewer hospitalisations and deaths… many of the region’s countries are still in a slow surge phase and the pattern isn’t being repeated. Economists also predict that Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine, the sanctions and reciprocal airspace closures throughout Europe, are now forcing international airlines to cancel Asia-Pacific services and charge premium fares for existing flights. But despite the surging cases and the delayed peaks and high caseloads, most of the affected countries are still in the process of reopening their borders and cutting back on restrictions. Despite the general optimism for a resumption of general travel in the region, China, the world’s second largest economy, still remains virtually closed for inbound and outbound travel and are in the middle of their own Covid surge and a resumption of lockdowns affecting more than 30 million people.
A powerful earthquake in Japan has left at least two people dead and another 160 injured. The quake hit about 25 minutes before midnight on Wednesday, Japanese time.The magnitude 7.4 quake was in the same area as the one which caused the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster. In some areas the earthquake was powerful enough to knock people off their feet and rattle building in the capital Tokyo. Officials are warning of possible aftershocks in Fukushima, Miyagi and Yamagata prefectures.Immediately after the earthquake, Japan’s meteorological officials issued an advisory for tsunami waves of up to one metre for parts of Japan’s north-east coast, but it was later withdrawn on Thursday morning, although waves of around 30-40 centimetres reached the north-eastern shores.
Indonesia is removing export restrictions on its palm oil products and now plans to raise an export levy instead. This comes only a week after the world’s biggest exporter of palm oil shocked world markets by tightening limits on exports. Indonesia now requires companies to sell 30 per cent of their planned exports of palm oil locally, up from the 20 per cent limit imposed in January, under its domestic market obligation which tries to regulate the domestic prices.Instead now, the ceiling of palm export tax and a levy will be raised, from a maximum of US$375 per tonne to US$675 per tonne. Global prices of crude palm oil have surged to historic highs this year amid rising demand and weak output from the world’s top palm oil producers, Indonesia and Malaysia.
Japan and Australia have introduced unilateral sanctions against Russian banks and public government organisations. The Central Bank of Russia is now on Australia’s sanctions list and the Australian government is targeting any entities responsible for managing Russia’s sovereign debt, adding sanctions on individuals, Russian banks and government organisations. Canberra is imposing sanctions on Moscow’s Finance Ministry and adding 11 banks and government organisations, including the Russian central bank, covering the majority of Russia’s banking assets along with all entities that handle its sovereign debt.Meanwhile, Japan is slapping sanctions on seven Russian banks. They’ve also announced that they will impose sanctions against 15 individuals and nine Russian organisations, including defence officials and state-owned arms and technology enterprises.
The Philippines’ government is considering a four-day work week in a bid to conserve energy. Government officials say that as fuel continues to rise around the world, accelerated by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, they need to make drastic changes to limit the impact on Filipinos.They’re also considering a rise in the minimum wage and greater assistance for drivers. The four day work week would see employees working fewer days but for two extra hours each day. The idea is being proposed initially for public servants but will also engage the country’s private sector to adapt their working patterns. The country adopted similar measures during past sharp increases in the price of oil and energy prices back in 2008 and then again during the Gulf war. President Rodrigo Duterte will make a decision on the proposal next week. Petrol and gas prices have been rising every week for the past 11 weeks.
Officials in South Korea are calming public fears after a record 621,266 new coronavirus infections, as the government struggles to address its faltering pandemic response. 429 Covid-related deaths were also reported in the latest 24 hours, 140 more deaths than the previous single-day record set on Tuesday. They’ve also said that fatalities may further rise in coming weeks given the usual intervals between infections, hospitalisations and deaths.The outbreak has been significantly bigger than anything forecast by South Korean government or health authorities, who continue to maintain that the omicron variant is nearing its peak. But South Korea, like many countries in the region who are also suffering a wave of Omicron at the moment, has had a much lower rate of deaths in relation to population size, compared with both the US or many European nations. Officials are insisting that Omicron is no more deadly than seasonal influenza for vaccinated people and less dangerous than the delta strain that hit the country hard in December and early January.
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