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US passes HK sanctions as nations condemn new law

The US House of Representatives has approved new Hong Kong-related sanctions, after Beijing imposed a security law that was condemned by countries around the world.

The measure, which was passed unanimously, penalises banks that do business with Chinese officials.

It will have to be approved by the Senate before going to President Trump.

Critics say China’s law ends freedoms that were guaranteed for 50 years when British rule ended in 1997.

“The law is a brutal, sweeping crackdown against the people of Hong Kong, intended to destroy the freedoms they were promised,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the passing of the law was a “clear and serious breach” of the 1985 Sino-British joint declaration.

Under this declaration, Hong Kong was handed back to China in 1997, with certain freedoms guaranteed for at least 50 years under the “one country, two systems” agreement.

China said the security law was necessary to stop the type of protests seen in Hong Kong during much of 2019.

And despite condemnation in the West, more than 50 countries, led by Cuba, supported China at the UN this week.

What does the US law say?

The Hong Kong Autonomy Act imposes sanctions on banks that do business with Chinese officials who are involved in cracking down on pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong.

Ms Pelosi said the law was an “urgently needed response to [China’s passing] of its so-called ‘national security’ law… which is purpose built to dismantle democratic freedoms in Hong Kong”.

Before the bill was signed, the US had already began eliminating Hong Kong’s special status – halting defence exports and restricting the territory’s access to high-technology products.

Last year, the US had also signed into law the Human Rights and Democracy Act, supporting pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong.

What have other countries said?

The UK said it will offer up to three million Hong Kong residents the chance to settle there and ultimately apply for full British citizenship.

Australia is also “actively considering” offering safe haven to Hong Kong residents – with Prime Minister Scott Morrison saying there were proposals that will “soon be considered by cabinet”.

Japan was among the other countries that spoke out against the law, calling it “regrettable”.

“It will undermine trust for the principle of ‘one country, two systems'” said Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi.

European Council President Charles Michel said it “deplored” the law – adding that it had a “detrimental effect on the independence of the judiciary and rule of law”.

And Canada changed its travel advice to Hong Kong, saying the new law “increased the risk of arbitrary detention on national security grounds and possible extradition to mainland China”.

Yesterday, a senior Chinese official slammed foreign critics, saying Hong Kong’s affairs were “none of your business”.

Have all countries been critical?

No. At the United Nations this week, Cuba – on behalf of 53 countries – welcomed the law.

Speaking at the 44th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council, it said: “Non-interference in internal affairs of sovereign states is an essential principle enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations.

“We believe every country has the right to safeguard its national security through legislation, and commend relevant steps taken for this purpose.”

How has the new law been used so far?

Just hours after the law was passed, Hong Kong police made their first arrests.

Ten people were accused of violating the new law, including a man with a pro-independence flag. About 360 others were detained at a banned rally.

Under the new law, inciting hatred of China’s central government and Hong Kong’s regional government are offences.

Acts including damaging public transport facilities – which often happened during the 2019 protests – can be considered terrorism.

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American Airlines warns it is overstaffed by 8,000 flight attendants

BENGALURU (REUTERS) – American Airlines Group warned it is overstaffed by about 8,000 flight attendants and might reduce its workforce through early retirement and voluntary leave as the carrier looks to weather a hit to business from the Covid-19 pandemic.

The company will reduce its international and transcontinental crew to the minimum required by the Federal Aviation Administration, plus one flight attendant, effective from Oct 1, 2020, Jill Surdek, American Airlines’ vice-president of flight service, said in a letter to employees on Wednesday (July 1).

US carriers have warned that furloughs could take place in October, when the government payroll aid for the airline industry expires, but said they were hoping to avoid them.

“While we hope our customers continue returning to the skies in the coming months, the reality is that this pandemic has changed our business for years to come,” Ms Surdek said.

The company said it would initiate early-out programmes to minimise the need for furloughs and would address the excess numbers in the coming weeks.

Last week, American Airlines said that avoiding furloughs will be difficult and it expects to have between 10 per cent and 20 per cent more workers than needed in July 2021.

Earlier in the day, rival JetBlue and pilots’ union Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA), reached an agreement to avoid involuntary furlough until May 1, 2021.

Separately, American Airlines said on Wednesday it expects its summer 2021 long-haul international capacity to be down 25 per cent compared with 2019, as it sees significantly lesser business from its international market.

“The Covid-19 has forced us to re-evaluate our network,” chief revenue officer Vasu Raja said, adding that the company will have a significantly smaller international network in the year ahead.

The carrier had initiated a phased suspension of nearly all long-haul international flights in March, as the airline industry took a hit from reduced demand and travel restrictions due to the ongoing Covid-19 outbreak.

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Gunmen kill 24 people in attack on Mexican drug rehab centre

Attack in Guanajuato is one of the worst mass slayings since President Lopez Obrador took office in December 2018.

At least 24 people were killed in an armed attack on a drug rehabilitation facility in the central Mexican city of Irapuato, Mexican police said on Wednesday, underlining the challenge the government has in fulfilling a pledge to stop gang violence.

Police in the city, located in Guanajuato state, said the gunmen also wounded seven in what was the second such attack to take place in Irapuato during the past month. The attack was also confirmed by a federal government official.

Photos from the scene shared by police with local reporters showed at least 11 prone and bloodied bodies lying in a room.

The attack was one of the worst mass slayings since President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador took office 19 months ago pledging to reduce record levels of violence. But homicides hit a new record last year and are trending higher still in 2020.

On June 6, 10 men were killed when gunmen opened fire in a rehabilitation centre for addicts in Irapuato. It was not immediately clear if the same facility was hit both times.

Guanajuato, a significant carmaking hub, has become one of the principal flashpoints of criminal violence in Mexico.

Rehab centres are known to have been targeted by criminal gangs waging turf wars for control of the drug trade.

At least 26 people were killed in an arson attack by suspected gang members on a bar in the southern Mexican port of Coatzacoalcos last August.

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Business

Dollar on defensive as investors await U.S. jobs data

TOKYO/SINGAPORE (Reuters) – The dollar was on the defensive against more growth-sensitive currencies on Thursday, following upbeat U.S. and European economic data, though worries about the coronavirus blunted more aggressive risk taking ahead of upcoming U.S. jobs figures.

The New Zealand dollar NZD=D3 led modest gains in Asia, edging ahead by 0.2% to a one-week high of $0.6492. [AUD/]

Against a basket of currencies, the greenback slipped marginally and is tracking toward its worst week in a month, with a 0.4% fall – though it could shift significantly in either direction depending on U.S. jobs data due at 1230 GMT.

Non-farm payrolls figures are expected to show an increase of 3 million jobs last month. But estimates vary widely and the data comes as concerns grow about whether the U.S. economy can sustain its recovery as coronavirus infections surge and some states reimpose limits on business and personal activity.

“Any reasonable reaction to this number must also price in the resurgence in cases,” said Vishnu Varathan, head of economics at Mizuho Bank in Singapore, adding that a strong beat is needed to boost sentiment.

“A shortfall, particularly even one that may be mildly negative, would quickly reinforce the shadows of doubt being cast on plans for unfettered re-openings,” he said.

A miss would probably push U.S. Treasury yields lower, Varathan added, but he said the dollar’s response is less predictable and dependent on whether investors regard hiccups in the U.S. recovery as a challenge to the global rebound.

“Given the programmes in place, a weak number is unambiguously weak,” said Steve Englander, global head of G10 FX research at Standard Chartered in New York.

“A strong number could reflect economic improvement or fiscal incentives to hire.”

FINE BALANCE

Supporting sentiment in the meantime was news that a COVID-19 vaccine developed by German biotech firm BioNTech (BNTX.O) and U.S. pharmaceutical giant Pfizer (PFE.N) showed potential in early-stage human trials.

U.S. manufacturing activity also rebounded more than expected in June, with the Institute for Supply Management’s manufacturing activity index hitting its highest in 14 months.

Similar surveys from China, Germany and France all pointed to an improvement in factory activity, while the ADP National Employment Report showed June private payrolls added nearly 2.4 million jobs.

Still, re-openings are stalling in the U.S. as case numbers surge. New cases of COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus, shot up by nearly 50,000 on Wednesday, the biggest one-day spike since the start of the pandemic.

The safe-haven Japanese yen JPY= hung on to overnight gains to hold steady at 107.53 yen per dollar, pointing to elevated investor caution.

Elsewhere the euro changed hands at $1.1257 EUR=, maintaining its gain of 0.3% since the start of week.

The mood also lifted sterling GBP=D4 above $1.25 for the first time in a week, and it last sat at $1.2483, having bounced almost 2% from a one-month low hit on Monday.

Analysts expect the pound could be about 4% stronger in a year’s time, if Britain and the European Union can thrash out a trade deal, a Reuters poll has found.

Broadly, poll respondents expect the dollar to slowly decline over the coming year, though that depends on there being no second shock from the coronavirus.

“If we see further spikes in coronavirus cases, I would expect both the dollar and the yen to strengthen against other currencies,” said Tohru Sasaki, head of Japan market research at J.P. Morgan.

Graphic: World FX rates in 2020 here

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Gunmen attack Mexican drug rehab center killing 24

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Gunmen killed 24 people at a drug rehabilitation facility in the central Mexican city of Irapuato, police said on Wednesday, underlining the government’s challenge in fulfilling its pledge to stop gang violence.

Police in the city in Guanajuato state said the unidentified attackers also shot and wounded seven people in what was the second attack at an Irapuato rehab center in the past month.

Photos from the scene shared by police with reporters showed at least 11 prone and bloodied bodies in a room.

Police said in a statement that three of the wounded were in grave condition, and that the facility was not formally registered.

Social media videos following the incident showed ambulances on site and several dozen people described as relatives of the victims clustered on the street.

Guanajuato’s Attorney General Carlos Zamarripa said he had designated a specialized team to investigate the killing, which he called a “cowardly criminal act,” while Governor Diego Sinhue called for a joint effort from federal and state authorities to tackle violence.

The attack was one of the worst mass slayings since President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador took office 19 months ago pledging to reduce record levels of violence. But homicides hit a new record last year and are trending higher still in 2020.

Guanajuato, a major carmaking hub, has become one of the principal flashpoints of criminal violence in Mexico, ravaged by a turf war between the local Santa Rosa de Lima gang and the powerful Jalisco New Generation Cartel.

According to federal data, Guanajuato registered 1,405 homicides this year through May, more than any other state.

On June 6, gunmen opened fire at a different addiction rehab center in Irapuato, killing 10 men. Rehab centers are known to have been targeted by criminal gangs waging battles for control of the drug business.

At least 26 people were killed in an arson attack by suspected gang members on a bar in the southern port of Coatzacoalcos last August.

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Politics

Singapore GE2020: PAP will not have 'blank cheque' because of NCMP scheme, say Chan Chun Sing and Indranee

SINGAPORE – The People’s Action Party will never have a blank cheque to do as it wishes as it is accountable to Singaporeans, two ministers said on Thursday morning (July 2).

The Non-Constituency MP (NCMP) scheme also guarantees that Parliament will have a diversity of views and opposing voices, regardless of whether opposition members are elected, they added.

Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing and Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office Indranee Rajah were responding to Workers’ Party candidate Jamus Lim, who urged Singaporeans to vote for the WP and deny the PAP “a blank cheque” during a televised debate on Wednesday night.

Speaking to The Straits Times, Mr Chan said this is not a “correct characterisation” of what the coming general election is about, adding that the PAP is accountable to the electorate and responsible for the people’s welfare.

“In governance, the PAP is accountable to the people always, whether it is election (time) or not,” he said.

” I don’t think there is anything such as a blank cheque as if the PAP can do anything without accountability. I don’t think that’s a correct characterisation. Everything that we do, at every step of the way, we have to be responsible to Singaporeans, their welfare, their well-being and we have to be responsible for the long-term survival of the country.”

Mr Chan was speaking on the sidelines of a walkabout at Pek Kio Market, where he was joined by his Tanjong Pagar GRC teammates, Ms Indranee and PAP new faces Alvin Tan and Eric Chua.

During the debate on Wednesday, Associate Professor Lim, who is in the WP’s Sengkang GRC team, said: “The PAP has argued that the election is really about giving them a mandate to bring the country out of this crisis and they need this mandate in order to do so.”

“The truth is the PAP in all likelihood will have this mandate by the end of this election… what we are trying to deny the PAP isn’t a mandate, what we are trying to deny them is a blank cheque.”

Rebutting Prof Lim, Ms Indranee pointed to the NCMP scheme: “The PAP will never have a blank cheque, because no matter what happens, the Constitution guarantees at least 12 opposition seats at the minimum.”

She added that NCMPs have equal voting rights as elected MPs. This means they can vote on matters such as constitutional amendments, supply and money bills, and votes of confidence.

The NCMP scheme was introduced in 1984 to ensure a minimum number of opposition members in Parliament. NCMP seats are offered to losing opposition candidates who garner the highest percentage of votes during the GE.

In 2016, the Constitution was amended to give NCMPs expanded rights and to increase the number of such MPs from nine to 12.

Mr Chan said the NCMP scheme was a “design feature” of Singapore’s parliamentary system, adding that “it’s quite rare for people to design it into the system”.

“So you think about it, there are not many systems in the world that have institutionalised this such that there will always be diversity of views in Parliament,” he said.

“We designed it as such because we want to make sure that any discussion about the future of the country and the policies that we are going to implement is done robustly – it is in our interest to do so as both the PAP and Government.”

During the walkabout, the PAP team handed out fliers and chatted with residents in the Moulmein-Cairnhill ward contested by the party’s new face, Mr Tan, 40, LinkedIn’s Asia-Pacific head of public policy and economics.

Resident and Pek Kio Market stallholder Ang Ah Moy, 74, said the ward’s previous MP Melvin Yong, who is standing in Radin Mas SMC for this election, comes by the market often.”I’m quite thankful for all the support the PAP has given us. It has helped us get through this period,” she said.

Mr Tan said residents in the area have been welcoming.

“We are not new here, they all know us, and we had very warm interactions,” he said

Singapore GE2020: Get full election coverage on our dedicated site here.

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Energy Transfer digs in on North Dakota pipeline expansion despite oil slump, sources say

NEW YORK (Reuters) – U.S. pipeline company Energy Transfer has taken the rare step of invoking force majeure – normally used in times of war or natural disaster – to prevent oil firms from walking away from a proposed expansion of the controversial Dakota Access pipeline, according to two sources familiar with the matter.

Energy Transfer wants to nearly double the size of the line, and some companies that signed up say it is no longer necessary due to the sharp fall in U.S. oil production after the coronavirus pandemic. North Dakota is one of the costliest spots in the United States to produce crude, and its output has dropped by about one-third from last year, more than most other oil-producing states.

DAPL is the largest pipeline running out of North Dakota’s Bakken shale basin. It has capacity to ship 570,000 barrels per day (bpd) of crude to its endpoint in Illinois. Users say an expansion to 1.1 million bpd is unlikely to be filled because the state’s production is not expected to rebound soon.

“Honestly, DAPL is not needed,” said one customer who committed to space on the expanded line, speaking on condition of anonymity. “They’re trying to build a house that all these people signed up for. Even if there’s no longer a need for the house, you can’t really walk away from it. Would I like to get out? Yes, for sure.”

Energy Transfer, however, has invoked force majeure because it could not get the permits by a certain date, according to one shipper on the line and another familiar with the declaration. That buys the company more time to get regulatory approvals and prevents customers from walking away from their commitments.

The company declined to comment on the force majeure. Energy Transfer spokeswoman Lisa Coleman reiterated previous company statements that it has received enough interest to increase the pipeline’s capacity.

Pipelines are generally built after companies find customers willing to commit to shipping oil. That helps pipeline builders to line up financing for such projects, which take years to complete. Contracts to use future pipeline space usually allow customers to walk away from those agreements when substantial delays occur.

In an April filing with Illinois regulators, Energy Transfer said that “not one shipper has sought to withdraw from an existing agreement” despite the oil downturn and that demand exceeds DAPL’s current capacity. The company said in legal filings that the downturn is temporary.

North Dakota’s production has dropped by 450,000 bpd, down from a peak of nearly 1.5 million bpd reached last year, according to the Energy Information Administration’s data.

The expanded line is currently expected to enter service in late 2021.

At least a half-dozen U.S. oil pipeline projects have been put on hold indefinitely so far this year, according to U.S. Energy Department data. U.S. production has dropped from a record 12.9 million bpd in late 2019 to roughly 11 million bpd.

OPPOSITION IN ILLINOIS

DAPL drew thousands of people to North Dakota in 2016 in support of Native American tribes and environmental groups protesting the line’s initial construction. It eventually started in mid-2017 after months of delays.

To expand the line, Energy Transfer needs approval from regulators in North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa and Illinois.

The first three have said yes, but environmental groups brought numerous legal challenges in Illinois starting a year ago. They argued the application was improperly filed and that an expansion increases the risk of large-scale leaks. The challenges may force the company to resubmit its application.

“They’re in force majeure right now because they did not get the permits,” one source with direct knowledge of the matter said.

An administrative law judge in Illinois could issue findings on the legal dispute as early as this month, though there is no timeline for that report. Once those findings are released, and both Energy Transfer and the opposition respond, the Illinois Commerce Commission will vote on whether the expansion can go forward. That vote has not been scheduled.

Even if producers wanted to fight Energy Transfer’s declaration of force majeure, they may be hesitant to initiate legal action due to the time and cost involved, said Ted Borrego, who has practiced oil and gas law for over 45 years and teaches at the University of Houston Law Center.

“Rarely will you see a shipper trying to bail out of a contract,” he said.

DAPL customers such as Hess Corp and refiner Marathon Petroleum, which invested in the original DAPL project, declined to comment specifically on any contractual agreements on DAPL or on the proposed expansion. Continental Resources, another large Bakken producer, did not respond to requests for comment.

“Hess believes that DAPL has and will continue to be a critical piece of U.S. energy infrastructure, which allows for transportation of crude oil into expanded domestic markets in the U.S. and abroad,” company spokesman Rob Young said.

Bakken crude producers generally break even on drilling at a price of about $46.50 a barrel, according to Deutsche Bank analysts, higher than other parts of the country. The U.S. crude oil benchmark is trading just below $40, after averaging just $17.50 in April and $33.70 in May.

While output in North Dakota has rebounded somewhat from its fall in May to less than 1 million bpd, production is expected to remain lower than its peak.

“At the moment I don’t think the demand is there from shippers for more DAPL, given the decline in Bakken output,” said Sandy Fielden, director of oil and products research at Morningstar in Austin, Texas.

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Hong Kong chaos: Protesters clash with police over strict new security law

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Hundreds of protesters and pro-democracy activists were arrested last night as they protested the stringent new bill. One of the arrests included a 15-year-old girl who was protesting the new restrictions and waving a flag.

Police officers were cladded with riot gear, shields and bearing guns as they pushed protesters back using water cannons, tear gas and pepper spray.

China released the details of the National Security Bill on Tuesday evening, weeks after the law was announced.

It happened on the eve of the 23rd anniversary of Hong Kong’s transfer to China and it overturns assurances made to protect Hongkongers’ freedoms.

Pro-democracy demonstrators were initially outnumbered by riot police, who were stationed at each major intersection.

Thousands of protesters arrived later to support the pro-democracy protest, dodging the tear gas and pepper pellets fired int heir direction.

Police said ten protesters were detained particularly under the new security law.

The first was a man with a flag that read: “Hong Kong Independence”. A woman holding a sign with the Union Flag was also arrested.

Other demonstrators were arrested for “possessing items advocating independence”.

Around 370 people were detained on other charges, including unlawful assembly and bearing weapons.

READ MORE: Susanna Reid skewers Labour’s Anneliese Dodds over COVID criticism

The new legislation is interpreted as China’s most resolute move to gain complete control over Hong Kong.

It bans any action considered to be against China’s national interests.

Even if violence is not used, anyone shouting slogans or holding signs advocating for independence is considered to be breaching the law.

Driving a bus full of pro-democracy demonstrators could be deemed to be breaking the law.

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Those who are found to be committing more sever crimes will be labelled “terrorists”, taken to the mainland and receive a life sentence in prison. Some trials will take place behind closed doors.

A new police force has also been authorised to work in the territory with immunity to local legislation.

It will be China, not Hong Kong, the one to decide how the law is interpreted.

Ahead of the demonstration, pro-democracy activist Tsang Kin-shing, of the League of Social Democrats, cautioned there was a “large chance of our being arrested”.

He said: “The charges will not be light, please judge for yourself.”

One man said: “I’m scared of going to jail but for justice I have to come out today, I have to stand up.”

Media tycoon Jimmy Lai said the bill meant Hong Kong was “dead”.

He added: “It’s worse than the worst scenario imagined. Hong Kong is totally subdued, totally under control.”

Mr Lai also backed the Tiananmen Square protesters in 1989 and he thinks Beijing will reprehend him.

“I cannot worry, because you never know what kind of measures they will take against me,” he said.

Amnesty International said the new legislation was a “far-reaching threat to Hong Kong’s freedoms”.

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U.S., EU advocacy groups warn against Google's purchase of Fitbit

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Twenty advocacy groups from the United States, Europe, Latin America and elsewhere signed a statement Wednesday urging regulators to be wary of Google’s $2.1 billion bid for fitness tracker company Fitbit Inc (FIT.N) because of privacy and competition concerns.

The 20 organizations – which include the U.S.-based Public Citizen, Access Now from Europe and the Brazilian Institute of Consumer Defense – argued that the deal would expand the already considerable clout in digital markets of Alphabet Inc’s (GOOGL.O) Google.

Acquiring Fitbit would give Google such intimate information about users as how many steps they take daily, the quality of their sleep and their heart rates.

“Past experience shows that regulators must be very wary of any promises made by merging parties about restricting the use of the acquisition target’s data. Regulators must assume that Google will in practice utilize the entirety of Fitbit’s currently independent unique, highly sensitive data set in combination with its own,” the groups said.

Australian and Canadian groups were among the signatories.

A Google spokeswoman said the tech wearables space was crowded.

“This deal is about devices, not data,” she said. “We believe the combination of Google’s and Fitbit’s hardware efforts will increase competition in the sector.”

Google announced the deal in November to take on competitors in the crowded market for fitness trackers and smart watches. Fitbit’s market share has been threatened by deep-pocketed companies like Apple Inc (AAPL.O) and Samsung Electronics Co Ltd (005930.KS).

Australia’s competition authority said this month that it may have concerns about the deal and would make a final decision in August.

EU antitrust regulators will decide by July 20 whether to clear the deal with or without concessions or open a longer investigation.

In Washington, Google is under antitrust investigation by the Justice Department, a congressional committee and dozens of states for allegedly using its massive market power to harm smaller competitors.

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Retail shops in Malaysia move online to stay afloat

Even though it has had a negative impact on both public health and the economy, the Covid-19 outbreak was a game changer when it came to digital transformation. It forced retailers to migrate to online platforms in a bid to stay afloat.

Sports attire business owner Muhammad Qayyum Al Qadri saved his five-year-old company from permanent closure by setting up a website and retraining his staff while staying at home, with very limited resources at his disposal.

“We’re quite known in the sports scene, but we didn’t really have an online presence. That was my fault, but I didn’t think anything could possibly go wrong until the pandemic broke out. We had to temporarily shut down when the government enforced the MCO. That was when we became ‘paralysed,'” he said, referring to Malaysia’s movement control order, which was implemented on March 18.

“After discussing it with my team, I purchased a website domain, set up an Instagram account and announced it to our customers via a broadcast message on WhatsApp.

“Over three months into the MCO, we now have more than 2,000 followers on Instagram and our sales are more stable,” said the 39-year-old from Petaling Jaya.

During the MCO, Malaysians were banned from leaving their homes unless it was necessary. More than 209,000 retail stores, including 90 per cent of stalls and markets, had to shut down, resulting in zero sales.

On May 4, the movement curbs were relaxed, allowing most businesses to reopen. But by then, thousands of businesses had ceased operations permanently.

According to Retail Group Malaysia (RGM), sales fell by 28.8 per cent in the first two weeks of the MCO, compared with the same period last year.

The Malaysian retail industry is expected to suffer a decline in sales of 5.5 per cent or RM10.9 billion (S$3.6 billion) this year, instead of the 4.6 per cent growth projected last December, the RGM forecast.

Madam Adilah Khairudin, 37, owner of traditional Malay clothing shop Poya Boutique, said: “We’ve been operating via a physical store for more than 20 years, so when the MCO was announced, I panicked because 90 per cent of our sales came from there.

“We have an Instagram account, but it wasn’t really utilised until recently. With the few resources I have, I carefully curate the content to lure potential customers.

“I’m now a storyteller for my products – I need to be creative. And it works. I’m now getting customers from Kelantan, Penang and Terengganu. Before this, most of my customers were based in the Klang Valley. The pandemic made me realise that there is a bigger market for businesses online.”

But moving online comes with challenges, as all sellers – from home-based businesses to mall tenants – work out new ways to manage inventory and fulfil orders.

“There were a lot of hiccups during the first month (of the MCO). We basically made a lot of mistakes. But with every mistake we make, we get to learn more,” Mr Qayyum said.

To ensure a smooth operation, Madam Adilah also said she had to move some of her stock to her residence to ease the fulfilment process.

“Now, my days are spent replying to customers’ private messages online and also fulfilling their orders from home. I need to equip myself with the right knowledge. I also need to invest in photo shoots for my products and advertise on a relevant platform,” she said.

Despite the easing of MCO restrictions, mall visitor numbers have significantly decreased.

“I no longer feel comfortable going to shopping malls or any other public places, so I think retailers going online is the way forward,” said shopper Nur Aisyah Ismail, 28.

“I don’t think we will ever be able to go back to ‘normal’, so I really love seeing how many of them have started selling online. The only downside is, if you’re buying clothes, you won’t be able to feel the material, but I can live with that.”

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