COVID-19 in ASEAN: Coronavirus battle escalates as death toll rises

Screenings at the virus-hit mosque in Malaysia. Photo: Noor Hisham Abdullah/Facebook
Screenings at the virus-hit mosque in Malaysia. Photo: Noor Hisham Abdullah/Facebook

New coronavirus deaths have been reported in the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia as the battle against COVID-19 intensifies in Southeast Asia. 

Some governments that long reported few or no cases have shifted from denial to more forceful action in the face of the outbreak’s mounting toll. Indonesia marked its deadliest day yet today with 14 more people killed by the virus, raising the total to 19. Malaysia and the Philippines reported two deaths each. 

More extreme measures have been taken by regional governments, with Malaysia enacting a nationwide lockdown and Thailand shuttering schools and most venues in Bangkok. Both are in place for at least two weeks. The Philippines’ President Rodrigo Duterte has declared a national state of emergency.

Mosques have become vectors for infection around the region as more cases linked to a virus-hit gathering of 16,000 Muslims in Kuala Lumpur spill into Brunei and Cambodia. 

A number of them also attended a separate mosque gathering in Brunei that has now been linked to a new case in the country, the government revealed yesterday. A number of Malaysians from the Kuala Lumpur mosque gathering have also tested positive in Cambodia.  

Updates from Coconuts’ newsrooms in Southeast Asia and Hong Kong:


  • The Johor state government is working to reopen Malaysia’s border with Singapore, where thousands of Malaysians mostly from Johor commute to for work each day.
    • “We are coming up with a mitigation plan during this Covid-19 outbreak,” Johor Chief Minister Hasni Mohammad was quoted by The Star as saying.
  • Malaysia begins its two-week lockdown today, barring citizens from leaving and foreigners from entering the country. Schools, places of worship and most businesses have been closed, except for those providing essentials like supermarkets. Large gatherings, including weddings, have also been banned. 
    • Those who violate the Movement Control Order face RM1,000 fine (US$230) and six months’ jail.
  • One of Malaysia’s first COVID-19 deaths was buried in Johor Bahru last night, hours after his death was announced, according to Bernama. The 34-year-old man had attended the virus-hit mass mosque gathering in Kuala Lumpur before testing positive on March 12. 
    • The other death in Malaysia involves a 60-year-old pastor in Kuching, Sarawak. 
  • Coronavirus cases rose to 790 today after 117 new cases were reported, 80 of which are linked to the virus-hit mosque gathering in Kuala Lumpur. More than 500 of the infected are now linked to the event.
  • A total of 15 people are in critical condition.


  • Total known infections rose to 193 and the death toll to 14 in the Philippines.
    • Two new deaths reported involved elderly men. 
    • Six more infections were reported today.
    • Seven people have recovered. 
  • Veteran actor Christopher De Leon is among the Philippines’ newest patients. The 63-year-old actor revealed on Instagram last night he tested positive earlier in the day. 
  • President Rodrigo Duterte has put the entire country under a state of calamity, freeing up access to more funds. 


  • Indonesia reported 14 new deaths today, pushing the death toll to 19. Coronavirus cases rose to 227.
  • A number of Indonesian government officials currently on holiday in Europe has been ordered to cut their vacation short and come home. They were originally headed for Saudi Arabia but changed their itinerary into a Euro trip after a ban on Muslim pilgrims from entering holy sites. 
  • The government has also suspended visa waivers for short-term visits for a month.


  • Dozens of new cases were reported for the third time since Sunday. 
    • Total coronavirus cases rose to 212 after 35 new infections were reported. 
    • They included cases linked to an entertainment venue and a boxing match in Bangkok. One separate case involved a person recently in Cambodia.
  • The Thai government announced a “package of measures” in its bid to contain COVID-19.
    • Measures include postponing April holidays and partially shutting down Bangkok.
    • Schools, entertainment places, traditional Thai massage parlors and sports stadiums are among places forced to close for two weeks. 
    • Public transportation services will be ramped up to reduce congestion.
    • Government officials not allowed to travel abroad.
    • Thais abroad are urged not to return until the coronavirus outbreak is over.

Hong Kong

  • The 17-year-old dog that tested positive and then negative for COVID-19 has died after being released from quarantine. 
    • The Pomeranian died days after returning home to his owner, who has recovered from the coronavirus. On average, Pomeranians tend to live nine to 16 years.
  • Hong Kong has urged sick residents abroad to sick treatment before traveling back as imported infections rise in the city.
  • Coronavirus cases rose to 181 today after 14 new infections were reported, according to the South China Morning Post.


  • Taiwan today banned entry to all foreign visitors as coronavirus cases rose to 100.
    • Twenty-three new cases reported today mostly involved people who had traveled abroad.


  • Brunei has 56 coronavirus cases after two more were reported yesterday. One of them is linked to the mosque gathering in Kuala Lumpur while another had attended a separate mosque gathering that took place in Brunei on March 5. A number of mosque goers from the gathering in Malaysia were also at the one in Brunei. 
  • Four Brunei nationals who went to the Malaysian mosque gathering have tested positive in Malaysia. 


  • Coronavirus cases rose to 35 in Cambodia after more than 20 new cases were reported, including three Malaysians who were from the Kuala Lumpur mosque gathering, Khmer Times reported.


  • Singapore reported 23 new cases, bringing the total number of infections to 266. Latest cases mostly include people who likely contracted COVID-19 abroad.

Solidarity with Malaysians forced to flee lockdown for Singapore as cases rise to 266 (Map)

Full gov’t statement on partial COVID-19 shut down of Bangkok in English
Six new infections bring Philippines’ total COVID-19 cases to 193, one more patient recovers
Actor Christopher De Leon tests positive for COVID-19, wife Sandy Andolong under quarantine
Hong Kong Pomeranian that tested positive for COVID-19 dies after returning home
Indonesian officials, wives go on Euro trip amid coronavirus outbreak

Elderly Indonesian doctor who went viral for joining fight against COVID-19 reportedly in intensive care

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