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Coronavirus

From New Delhi to Bangkok, Asia's megacities shackled

Travel bans to contain coronavirus sap region's economic lifeblood

A woman wearing protective mask and gloves seen on a Mass Rapid Transit train during a movement control order in Kuala Lumpur on Sunday.   © Reuters

SINGAPORE/MUMBAI -- New Delhi is banning travel to and from neighboring provinces while Bangkok shuts down malls and golf courses as Asian countries face a second wave of imported coronavirus cases, this time from Europe and the U.S.

While the efforts could curb the spread of the outbreak, they are expected to damage the region's economies, which rely heavily on tourism and the service sector.

The Delhi government has essentially blocked off the Indian capital with the travel ban from Monday until the end of March. Nonessential stores have been told to shut their doors, with residents encouraged to stay in their homes except to buy groceries and medication.

Malaysia closed all nonessential businesses Wednesday. Thailand on Sunday banned commercial and entertainment facilities, like malls and golf courses, from operating until April 12. Restaurants there are not permitted to serve dine-in customers, while supermarket and drugstores remain open.

Factories also are closing. Automakers and other manufacturers have halted production in India after provinces ordered offices and factories to close and residents to stay home. In Malaysia, homegrown automakers Perodua and Proton suspended work at their plants and dealerships.

Though South Asia and Southeast Asia have not been hit as hard as the U.S. and Europe by the new coronavirus, cases are on the rise again. Thailand's patient numbers quintupled in the past week to over 700.

Bangkok's Siam station, one of the Thai capital's busiest train stops, stands nearly empty during rush hour on March 23.   © Reuters

"We are now facing a new wave of infected cases coming largely from Europe and America," said Lawrence Wong, Singapore's national development minister. "This second wave is larger than the first wave from China."

Singapore banned all short-term visitors from entering or transiting through the country starting at 11:59 p.m. Monday.

Hong Kong also said it will ban all nonresident foreigners from flying into the territory starting Wednesday. Hong Kong, whose economy relies heavily on connections to the outside world, had avoided blanket entry restrictions. But the city decided to crack down, with 70% of its new patients having previously spent time abroad.

Looking to the financial fallout, Barclays projected Friday that Thailand's economy will shrink 4% in 2020 while Malaysia dips 1%, as the company downgraded its March 13 forecast by over 4 percentage points. India, South Korea and Indonesia are seen taking a hit as well.

Many countries in the region depend on the service sector. Retail, food services, hotels, logistics and other related industries account for about 70% of Singapore's gross domestic product and about 60% of Malaysia's. Thailand generates almost 20% of its GDP from tourism alone. The restrictions are expected to impact not only consumption, but employment as well.

Additional reporting by Takeshi Kihara in Hong Kong.

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