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Asian Insider, Jan 4: Suga for Covid-19 emergency measures; hard choices for Asia in 2021

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

Asian Insider Editor/Asia News Network Editor

Hi all, 

In today’s bulletin: Japan set to impose Covid-19 emergency measures in areas as cases flare-up; Pinduoduo worker’s death after long hours on the job sparks debate; China’s Wang Yi stirs controversy afresh by saying the coronavirus pandemic originated elsewhere; Asia’s factory activity sentiments up; hard choices for Asia in 2021 as Mr Biden takes charge, and more.

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Japan considers Covid-19 emergency in areas – again

Japan is set to impose a new state of emergency in Tokyo and its three neighbouring prefectures with the number of coronavirus infections going up. The area is one of the world’s most densely populated areas. Announcing the new measures at a press conference today, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga reiterated the need for “stronger messaging” to ensure people stay away from each other.

The first state of emergency between April and May led to widespread closures of schools, concert venues, department stores and sports gyms among others, Japan Correspondent Walter Sim reports. The new emergency decree will be “more targeted and focused” on high-risk areas, Mr Suga said on Monday.

The PM also admitted that restarting the Go To Travel domestic tourism campaign next Monday as planned – after a two-week suspension – would be difficult. 

Elsewhere, China was racing to inoculate millions of people before the Chinese New Year mass travel season in February while in Thailand, the government was grappling with a record number of new infections.

Pinduoduo worker’s death renews debate about work culture

China’s e-commerce company Pinduoduo confirmed the death of an employee, who had been working past midnight last week, on Monday, sparking renewed debate on social media over the perils of working long hours in the country’s tech giants.

Much of the furore has been over the relentless working hours expected of employees, with a hashtag about the incident drawing more than 150 million views on the Twitter-like Sina Weibo service. 

The so-called 996 office schedule is short for working hours extending from 9am to 9pm, six days a week, plus overtime. Despite the criticism, tech billionaires from Alibaba Group Holding founder Jack Ma to JD.com chief Richard Liu have endorsed the practice as necessary for survival.

China’s Wang Yi suggests foreign outbreaks caused pandemic

China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi blamed outbreaks elsewhere for the global coronavirus pandemic, as Beijing strives to recast the narrative over its origin.

“More and more research suggests that the pandemic was likely to have been caused by separate outbreaks in multiple places in the world,” he said in an interview with Xinhua News Agency and state broadcaster CCTV.

The remarks were made as Wuhan, the epicentre of the pandemic, marked a year since the outbreak and as Beijing continues to be accused of stonewalling efforts to find the origins of the virus.

Asian factories shake off Covid-19 hit

Asian factory activity expanded moderately in December given robust demand in China, a business survey showed, in an encouraging sign that suggested manufacturers in some places in Asia could be emerging from the damage caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

However, the need in some countries to impose tougher coronavirus control measures suggested Asian policymakers would remain under pressure to maintain or ramp up massive stimulus programmes.

Meanwhile, reports said optimism about the economic outlook in 2021 helped Asian investors kick off the new year on Monday (Jan 4) on a positive note, with hopes over the roll-out of coronavirus vaccines offsetting concerns over the surge in infections.

Hard choices await Asia in 2021

Later this month, America’s president-elect Joe Biden will be sworn in as the 46th President of the United States, with America’s first woman vice-president Kamala Harris by his side. 

What will this mean for Asia? It is still early days yet. Mr Biden’s moves will be tracked for the likely impact it will have on US-China ties and the region, writes Associate editor Ravi Velloor. With several factors at play, Asians should have a better sense of where their collective destinies are headed in a few months from now, he says. 

Also read: 

US, Europe set for radical reversals, succession struggles in 2021

Virus’ impact to still weigh on economy

In other news…

Seoul health ministry takes down pandemic health video after backlash: South Korea’s Ministry of Health and Welfare took down a video that encouraged people to dance to beat the coronavirus blues, following a backlash. Critics slammed it as inconsiderate as it didn’t take into account the fact that several people live in apartments and noise could disturb neighbours..

Hong Kong extends school closures: The city of Hong Kong extended its suspension of face-to-face school classes until mid-February, with the spread of the coronavirus in the Asian financial hub remaining “critical”. Schools in the island have been shut for close to a year now.

Thanks for reading The Straits Times and this newsletter. We will be back with you tomorrow.     

Shefali

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