Economic stimulus ready soon

ECONOMIC STIMULUS: (April 22) The overdue stimulus package to spur economic growth will be finalised soon. Acting Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi said there was an urgency to come up with the broad-based package, now that the situation in the Middle East appeared more certain. He said it would be ready “faster than in the next two months.” The package was initially scheduled for announcement on April 7.  

SARS MEETING: (April 23) Asean and its “Plus 3” partners – Japan, South Korea and China – will meet in Putrajaya this weekend to discuss the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) affecting the region and ways to combat its threat. Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi will open the meeting involving senior health officials and ministers. 

SARS CASE: (April 25) The Health Ministry reported a new probable SARS case on Thursday, involving a 30-year-old cargo company pilot who recently returned from Hong Kong. He fell sick on Tuesday and was admitted to the Penang Hospital the next day, said Health deputy director-general Datuk Dr Ismail Merican, amid another report that the ministry had traced 203 people who visited a Singapore wholesale market temporarily closed after a worker there was diagnosed with SARS. 

STUDY LOAN: (April 21) The National Higher Education Fund Corporation will introduce a new loan option scheme this year in addition to the existing full and half-loan options, said its chairman Datuk Husni Hadnazlah. The option, he said, would allow students to take loans for their course fees at public and private institutions of higher learning in the country without including living expenses.  

RM350 MINIMUM: (April 23) Estate workers signed a historic deal with plantation owners on Tuesday, capping a 40-year struggle to receive guaranteed minimum wages. Under the agreement between the National Union of Plantation Workers (NUPW) and the Malaysian Agricultural Producers Association (Mapa), some 58,000 labourers will now be paid RM350 if their earnings for the month fall below the figure. The agreement is effective from Jan 1 this year until 2005.  

BRINK OF DIABETES: (April 23) At least 400,000 Malaysian adults above 30 may become diabetics if they do not change their diet, step up their exercise and reduce their weight, Health Minister Datuk Chua Jui Meng said. The ministry, he said, was concerned over the fact that 4.3% of Malaysian adults suffered from impaired glucose tolerance that could lead to Type 2 diabetes if the condition is not controlled. 

QUARANTINE ORDER: (April 24) Health authorities have ordered the quarantine of 125 lorry drivers who visited a wholesale market in Singapore. Johor executive councillor Datuk Halimah Mohamed Sadique said the health department here was tracking down the drivers who visited the Pasir Panjang Wholesale Market which was shut down after a worker was diagnosed with SARS. 

SUITABLE MODEL: (April 24) The Government is looking for a suitable model for the Motor Vehicles Repair and Service Act to ensure consumers will not be short-changed when their motor vehicles are repaired and to maintain high standards of automotive mechanical skills. The Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs Ministry is studying models of the law from the United Kingdom, United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.  

NO DIRECT-SELLING: (April 25) Doctors are not allowed to take part in the direct selling of health supplements to their patients, said the Malaysian Medical Association. Its president Datuk Dr N. Athimulam said patients compelled to buy branded supplements and forced to become down-line agents by their doctors should write to MMA's ethics committee. All complaints will be forwarded to the Malaysian Medical Council, which will investigate and take action against the doctors responsible.  

BAN LIFTED: (April 26) The government has lifted the ban on Bup Kudus, the Iban-language Bible, but advised the parties involved to exercise care when translating religious works. Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi said the issue in question – the use of the word Allah Tala for God in the Iban language – had been resolved. The ban is lifted with immediate effect. He said the book was banned as the Islamic Development Department (Jakim) felt the use of Allah Tala, similar to Muslims' Allah Taala, was inappropriate. Bup Kudus has been used by Iban Christians for the past 15 years.  

NOT OVER YET: (April 26) The World Health Organisation believes the SARS outbreak is beginning to come under control. Its medical officer for global alert and response Dr Mark Salter said although the outbreak was not over, SARS had reached the “normalisation” phase. He said since the WHO had issued recommendations on effective control measures, SARS had been successfully controlled in several places. 


TAKING CHARGE: (April 22) The man who will run post-war Iraq, retired US general Jay Garner, got his first look at the wreckage in Baghdad as he arrived to begin rebuilding the battered country after the fall of Saddam Hussein. Garner flew into the capital to take the reins of a US interim administration already facing sharp criticism over the looting, chaos and breakdown in food, water and electricity supplies that have plagued Iraq in the wake of war.  

DEATH TOLL RISES: (April 24) SARS showed no signs of slowing down in China, with another nine deaths. The government closed schools, rounded up those with symptoms and ordered every town in the vast country to reveal all cases. A further 147 cases were recorded, mostly in Beijing, as authorities desperately tried to claw back ground lost by initially covering up the extent of an epidemic that now threatens to spiral out of control. Seven new deaths and 105 new cases were recorded in Beijing, which is reeling from the sudden onset of the killer disease since the government decided to own up and publish more thorough figures.  

FILIPINOS HIT: (April 26) The Philippines reported its first deaths from SARS on Friday and authorities in Taiwan quarantined over 1,000 doctors, nurses and patients in a hospital to halt the spread of the deadly flu-like disease. SARS, a respiratory infection for which there is no known cure and has a mortality rate of about 6%, has killed at least 276 people and infected about 4,800 in 25 nations.  

MARKET SCARE: (April 22) More than 2,400 people who could have been exposed to the SARS virus at a Singapore market have been put under a 10-day quarantine, the government said, amid fears the disease could be spreading beyond hospitals. The Pasir Panjang wholesale market, which supplies at least 70% of Singapore's vegetable needs, was shut down last Saturday.  

NEW STRAIN: (April 22) A drug-resistant superbug that has swept through hospitals and infected patients is now hitting healthy people. MRSA (methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus) normally enters the wounds of patients weakened by disease or injury. It is especially dangerous after surgery. But a new strain that can be transmitted simply by skin contact and poses a risk to healthy people has emerged. 

CHINA SARS ALERT: (April 23) China will send medical teams across the country to contain the rapidly spreading SARS epidemic as at least eight more deaths were reported in mainland China and Hong Kong. The Philippines also reported suspected new deaths from SARS which has killed more than 230 and infected some 4,000 worldwide since it first emerged in southern China in November. 

PAY FOR OPPOSING: (April 24) US Secretary of State Colin Powell said on Tuesday France would suffer the consequences for having opposed the United States over the war with Iraq. Speaking on the Charlie Rose Show television programme, Powell said the US had to review its relationship with France following its promise to veto any UN Security Council resolution authorising war against Iraq. The US invaded Iraq and toppled Saddam Hussein despite opposition from France, Russia, Germany and other nations. 

NUKE TALKS BEGIN: (April 24) US Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly began talks with North Korea to resolve a standoff over Pyongyang's suspected nuclear weapons programme, but few expect a breakthrough. With North Korean negotiator Li Gun considered too junior to cut a deal, diplomats said the first formal face-off between Washington and Pyongyang in China since the crisis began last October was likely to yield only plans for more talks. North Korea's lead official, Ri Gun, told Kelly that his country has nuclear weapons and may test, export or use them, depending on US actions.  

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