JAPAN, which once garnered positive headlines globally due to relatively lower rate of COVID-19 infections compared with other countries, seeming to pass through the worst of the virus outbreak, is now on alert from a spike in new COVID-19 cases in recent weeks.

Economic data research adn analysis group GlobalData predicted this was likely to dampen investor sentiments.

Investors, who are wary of the rising cases and the consequences on the business environment and the country’s economy, are expected to remain cautious on placing bets, according to GlobalData. 

Tokyo, where a state of emergency was removed on May 25, started registering new cases in July. It registered 224 new cases on July 9 and crossed the 200 mark for the first time.

Realising the gravity of the situation, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government raised its COVID-19 alert to the highest level on July 15. It is still in force.

Amid the continued spike in COVID-19 infections in July and August, Tokyo reported 263 new cases on August 5. It also reported 472 new cases on August 1.

Aichi and Osaka have also been seeing growth in COVID-19 infections and reported 144 and 196 new cases, respectively, on August 5.

Aurojyoti Bose, a lead analyst at GlobalData, said, “If new COVID-19 cases continue to increase and Japan is forced to impose nationwide state of emergency, it will be a big blow to the country’s economy.

"The Bank of Japan in its forecast issued on July 15 expects the economy to shrink by 4.7 percent in fiscal 2020 and the recent surge in new cases signalling towards a second wave of COVID-19 infections may pose further risks for the country’s economy. It will also dent the recovery of business sentiments, which started picking up as the number of COVID-19 cases slowed down in late May.”

Mergers and acquisitions (M&A) and venture capital (VC) deals which stood at 62 and 52, respectively, in April 2020, the month when Japan imposed a state of emergency, decreased to 56 and 43, respectively, in May.

Nevertheless, investor sentiments started picking up, subsequent to the removal of state of emergency in late May, with M&A deal volume increasing to 66 in July while VC deal volume remain unchanged at 43.

 “With the recent spike in cases likely to dampen investor sentiments, it would be noteworthy to see if the momentum persists during the coming months," Mr Bose said.

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By Ellen Boonstra, Asia correspondent >>

WHETHER  it’s the tropical heat, the custom of wearing facemasks courtesy of its the air pollution, or the swift lockdown measures, on a global scale Thailand has done remarkably well in coping with the COVID-19 crisis.

As of mid-June, the country recorded 3,135 confirmed cases and 58 fatalities, ranking it second in the world, after Australia, among the countries with the highest COVID-19 recovery index and first in Asia, according to a report issued by the Global COVID-19 Index (GCI) on June 11, 2020.

Government spokesperson, Professor Narumon Pinyosinwat said Prime Minister and Defense Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha was grateful to all the Thai people for their discipline, strength, and patience in fighting COVID-19, so that everyone could get through the difficult situation together.

The GCI has been developed by PEMANDU Associates in collaboration with Malaysia’s Ministry of Science, Technology, and Innovation (MOSTI) and the Sunway Group. 

It is driven strongly by big data, and the index scores and ranks 184 countries on how well they are coping with the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the ranking of countries by recovery index, Australia receives 86.34 from 100 points. Thailand receives 83.29, followed by Denmark, 81.75; Taiwan, 79.55; South Korea, 79.25; New Zealand, 79.08; Lithuania, 77.06; Slovenia, 76.12; Iceland, 76.06; and Latvia, 75.46.

Among the 20 countries with the highest recovery index, five are in Asia. They include Thailand, Taiwan, South Korea, Malaysia, and Vietnam.

Key dynamic parameters used by the GCI include confirmed cases per population, the proportionate death rate due to COVID-19, and static scores derived from the Global Health Security Index, which was developed to assess a country’s readiness to cope with and handle any epidemic.

www.pemandu.org 

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HILTON has announced the reopening of all of its hotels in China, announcing it would be "welcoming guests once again with Hilton's signature hospitality".

As part of its global recovery process, Hilton also announced the upcoming Hilton CleanStay initiative to ensure the safety and well-being of guests and team members.

"The safety and well-being of our guests and team members remain our highest priority and reopening all our hotels in the Chinese mainland is the first step in a measured global recovery process," Hilton president and CEO, Chris Nassetta said. 

"We are doing everything we can to look after our Hilton family, and I am incredibly proud of how our teams have rallied together to support their communities and each other. We are confident that there are brighter days ahead, and we are eager to welcome guests with our signature Hilton hospitality once again - in China, and all around the world."

Hilton Asia Pacific presdient, Alan Watts said, "Following a challenging past couple of months, we are thrilled to announce the resumption of operations in all Hilton hotels in the Chinese Mainland, marking a significant milestone for a market that has shown incredible resilience.

"We are seeing demand gradually return to China starting with domestic travel, and green shoots of recovery across the wider region as countries begin to ease restrictions. With the introduction of the upcoming Hilton CleanStay, underpinned with our partnership with RB and Mayo Clinic, we look forward to welcoming our guests and providing them with assurance and peace of mind as we pioneer a new standard of safety and cleanliness."

As one of the region's fastest-growing global hospitality companies, Hilton in the Greater China region currently has 255 hotels in operation and more than 500 hotels in the pipeline with nearly one in three rooms under construction carrying a Hilton flag.

Enhanced Hygiene Practices for a Cleaner and Safer Stay

Ahead of its global recovery process, Hilton also announced the new Hilton CleanStay program, in collaboration with RB, maker of Lysol and Dettol, and Mayo Clinic, the top-ranked hospital system in the US.

A first in the hospitality business, Hilton CleanStay builds onto the already high standards of housekeeping and hygiene to deliver an industry-defining standard of cleanliness and disinfection in Hilton properties across the world.

The program is expected to launch in June 2020 and will create a focus on cleanliness that will be visible to guests throughout their stay, providing them with assurance and peace of mind when they stay at any of Hilton's brands.

To find out more about Hilton CleanStay, visit:
https://newsroom.hilton.com/corporate/news/hilton-defining-new-cleanliness-standard

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By Leon Gettler >>

IN CHINA, a blockchain venture seeks to create a smart city. The implications of the research will be global. It could create smart cities around the world.

Ada Xiao is the chief strategy officer for PlatON, the pioneering global privacy-preserving computing network. Located in Hangzhou, it is working with Innova City, seeking to create China’s largest blockchain-powered smart city project. 

Is due to be completed in 2025.

Ms Xiao said PlatON is working with automotive component company Wanxiang, which has been investing heavily in electric vehicles.  The company has invested US$29 billion into the smart city.

“I believe it will become the biggest blockchain empowered industrial grade smart city in the world once it’s completed,” Ms Xiao told Talking Business.

“Innova City will be featuring Wanxiang’s advanced manufacturing facilities for renewable energy, and electric vehicles, and it will have 90,000 residents who will be living and working there once it’s completed.”

PRIVACY BLOCKCHAIN

Ms Xiao said Innova City would be using PlatON’s privacy blockchain solution. It would monitor driving behavioural data to train auto-driving systems, as well as to record and monitor electric vehicle life cycles, in order to manage ecological waste efficiently

“Basically we will build a smart city that’s safe, greener and more efficient,” she said.

As part of the privacy guidelines, PlatON would be encrypting the data to ensure it is not exposed.

She said it was groundbreaking work.

“We realise that with so many smart city projects out there, one thing that is of concern is they don’t have a very good privacy-centric, decentralised infrastructure which we think should be the foundation of smart cities because you need this privacy-centric infrastructure to facilitate data sharing and better collaboration to greater lengths,” Ms Xiao said.

“That is very crucial to making a city smart.”

DATA IS ‘NEW OIL’

Ms Xiao said data had now become the “new oil”.

“In order to make data the new oil in order to flow, we really need to make sure that privacy is preserved,” she said.

With a workforce of about 100, PlaTON has offices Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong and plans to open an office in Singapore.

Ms Xiao said PlaTON planned to move into other sectors, beyond smart cities and the goal was to create a network that would facilitate the safe and secure circulation of data.

“That’s not limited to smart cities,” she said.

“It can be used to accelerate industries and advanced technologies. We are seeing demand in verticals and industries such as finance, health care and IoT logistics.

“Bascially it is designed for industries and applications that can benefit from data sharing in a decentralised network.”

That would, she said, be particularly important in industries such as health care and finance that put a lot of emphasis on privacy. 

www.platon.network

www.leongettler.com

 Hear the complete interview and catch up with other topical business news on Leon Gettler’s Talking Business podcast, released every Friday at www.acast.com/talkingbusiness.

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By Ellen Boonstra, Asia correspondent >>

ONCE KNOWN as one of the world’s top growers of recreational marijuana, Thailand has turned over a new leaf by becoming the first country in Southeast Asia to legalise cannabis-based products for medical patients, the Thai Government announced at a recent seminar.

The Narcotics Law of 2019, which came into effect earlier this year, states that “organisations and individuals who have obtained a license may produce, possess, import and export cannabis for the purpose of treating diseases and other medical conditions. The use of cannabis for study, research and the treatment of patients must be controlled under the care of registered practitioners, while the consumption or sale of cannabis for recreational use is still punishable by law”. 

Under strict guidelines laid down by the Ministry of Public Health and the Government Pharmaceutical Organization, the pilot program started last month at two hospitals in the provinces of Prachinburi and Sakhon Nakhon. Patients here are prescribed cannabis oil for a variety of ailments, such as the nausea and loss of appetite associated with chemotherapy, along with chronic cases of pain.

This year, more than 400 doctors and pharmacists have been trained in prescribing this age-old cure, along with almost 3,000 traditional medicine practitioners, said government officials at the seminar.

For decades now, medical researchers in the West have pointed out the curative properties of chemical compounds like CBD, with California becoming the first American state to lift the ban on medical marijuana in 1996.

Yet the roots of this versatile plant are buried deep in history and folk cures. The strain of the cannabis sativa plant, known as hemp, has been used as a fibre for 10,000 years.  Before the invention of modern paper, printers used its hemp variant to print everything from the Bible to Alice in Wonderland and the American Declaration of Independence.

THREE MILLENNIA IN CHINA

The use of medical marijuana has been chronicled as far back as 2900BC in China, but its popularity in Europe owes a debt to the Irishman, born in 1809. It was Dr William Brooke O’Shaugnessy, who prescribed it to Queen Victoria for menstrual cramps.

Believing that the plant had many other uses, he wrote in a medical journal, “When pure and administered carefully, cannabis is one of the most valuable medicines we possess.” 

In May 2019, the cover of The New York Times magazine showed a gummy bear laden with an extract from the marijuana plant known as CBD, with a list of promising cures that included everything from a possible cure for cancer to alleviating the symptoms of PTSD, brain injuries, depression and insomnia.

Only a decade ago a story like this in such a prestigious publication would have been unthinkable. But as countries around the world move to legalise medical marijuana – and in some cases, like Uruguay and Canada, its recreational cousin – the debate has shifted from the moral to the medicinal.

Across the world, companies have been quick to realise that investing some seed money in this cash crop will yield long-term dividends.

At the recent seminar in Bangkok, Adam Benjamin, director of Medifarm, said his company had already partnered with a firm in Israel, which is a world leader in medical marijuana.

An Australian firm, Medifarm now has its sights set on Thailand, where the company has offered its expertise for free.

“We would like to work with the Thai government on this for free,” Mr Benjamin said.

Medical marijuana, and its many offshoots, have enormous export potential, he said, as more and more countries move to legalise the medicinal and/or recreational use of cannabis products. 

Australian investments in marijuana farming and developing new medicines derived from this plant are surging, he added.

But the tight regulations that govern the use and distribution of such products in Australia have yet to be tested in Thailand. Critics of the new law believe that it’s ripe for exploitation.

To nip such problems in the bud, the Ministry of Public Health is laying the groundwork for a medical cannabis service system. Under the Special Access Scheme, the prescribing of cannabis-derived products will be strictly controlled.

After the Universal Coverage Scheme (UCS) came into effect Thailand in 2001 to provide affordable medical care for all, within a decade the program covered almost 98 percent of Thais. 

The supporters of the Narcotics Law of 2019 point to this ongoing success story as auguring well for the Thai government’s first steps into the growing field of medical marijuana.

www.medifarm.com.au

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By Ellen Boonstra, Asia correspondent >>

IN A GLOBALIZED world that is increasingly linked yet beset with all sorts of ethnic, economic and martial divides, Pope Francis arrived in Bangkok to preach a message of unity and compassion.

During his recent, four-day visit, the pontiff presided over Catholic mass at a historic church, had a private audience with His Majesty the King, visited a Catholic hospital and gave a speech at Government House.  

Before an audience that included Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, the Pope spoke of why he has made human trafficking a priority issue during his papacy.

While he lauded the Thai Government’s efforts to combat this social menace, he stressed the need for more countries to do their part in protecting women and children from exploitation. The most vulnerable members of society, he said, are routinely “violated and exposed to every form of exploitation, enslavement, violence and abuse".

In the midst of a global refugee crisis, he said, “May every nation devise effective means for protecting the dignity and rights of migrants and refugees, who face dangers, uncertainties and exploitation in their quest for freedom and a decent life for their families.''

Throughout his visit, Pope Francis, 83, balanced spiritual matters with secular concerns. At a holy mass in the Assumption Cathedral, founded more than a century ago, he urged the 7,000-strong audience to “maintain your joy and to look to the future with confidence. Rooted in Christ, view all things with the joy and confidence born of knowing that the Lord has sought us out, found us and loved us infinitely".

MULTI-FAITH MEETINGS

Pope Francis's visit, which coincided with the 350th anniversary of the establishment of the first Catholic mission in the country and the 50th anniversary of establishing formal diplomatic ties between Thailand and the Holy See, included a private meeting with His Majesty the King and a talk with the supreme patriarch of Thai Buddhism. 

At Wat Benjamobophit, where revered monarchs like the late King Rama VIIII and King Rama IV ordained as monks, the Pope met with the spiritual leader of Thai Buddhism, to discuss how these faiths can work together to promote religious harmony and help the needy.

It was the first such papal visit to the residence of the supreme patriarch since Saint John Paul II visited in 1984. Their meeting came only eight months after Pope Francis invited the supreme Buddhist matriarch to attend a summit of religious leaders discussing sustainable development projects under the umbrella of the United Nations.  

The biggest events of the papal visit took place when the pontiff said mass at the National Stadium and Tephasdin Stadium before some 70,000 Catholics. Dressed in the Vatican colours of white and yellow, some of these pilgrims had travelled from the furthest reaches of the kingdom to be blessed by the pontiff and hear him speak. As he drove around the stadiums in the pope-mobile, the crowd waved Vatican flags and shouted, “Viva Il Papa.”

Once again the Pope addressed the plight of the poor, who had fallen victim to human traffickers and been stripped of their “essential human dignity,” as well as “young people enslaved by drug addiction and a lack of meaning, which makes them depressed and destroys their dreams".

He also expressed concern about migrants, the homeless and labourers exploited by criminal networks, who remain invisible in many communities.

“Let us not deprive their communities of seeing their faces, their wounds, their smiles and their lies. Let us not prevent them from experiencing the merciful balm of God’s love that heals their wounds and pains,” Pope Francis said. 

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By Ellen Boonstra, Asia correspondent >>

PROMISING AN ICONIC cityscape view, atop King Power Mahanakhon, one of Thailand’s tallest towers, Bangkok’s Mahanakhon SkyWalk boasts the country’s highest 360-degree observation deck in the country.

Open since November last year, the city’s latest tourist attraction boasts the highest rooftop bar and the fastest video-themed elevator in the Kingdom, reaching the 74th floor in 50 seconds.

The highlight of the Mahanakhon SkyWalk is undoubtedly a 63sqm glass floor that juts out from the building façade at a dazzling height of 310m above ground level.  

Not for the fainthearted, the glass platform creates a gravity-defying photoshoot location; the ultimate Instagram shot revealing a plunging city visible below the smiling, or perhaps terrified, faces of those who step onto the see-through floor. Fast becoming a viral, must-snap shot, the SkyWalk reflects Bangkok’s reputation as a dizzyingly progressive and artistically dynamic metropolis.

A wide staircase leads from the outdoor rooftop area and observation deck to The Peak, 314m above ground level. Here rooftop bar sundowners come with spectacular sunset views from the highest point across the city that are simply mesmerizing. 

A few levels below, on the 74th floor, is an indoor observation deck with 360-degree vistas, powerful binoculars and Bangkok’s key landmark destinations identified on interactive screens and via a free app, which offers an augmented reality (AR) experience.

Bangkok’s highest postbox is a nice tourist touch with a vending machine selling postcards and stamps to send to loved ones from this urban scenic spot. There is also a Bangkok-themed digital corridor and an upside-down Bangkok-themed ceiling at the attraction’s main entrance.

MODERN MASTERPIECES

The Thai word Mahanakhon translates as ‘great metropolis’, and the mixed-use development tower was designed by award-winning German architect Ole Scheeren.

Located in Bangkok’s CBD, the glassy, pixelated façade is one of the finest examples of contemporary architecture and urban design in the whole of Thailand. 

The building’s distinctive three-dimensional ribbon of architectural ‘pixels’ circle the tower’s full height to create a stunning profile. Special features include projecting glass skyboxes with sweeping views and generous indoor and outdoor spaces with large terraces.

The design was first publically revealed in 2009, with sales officially commencing in 2010 and construction starting in 2011. The smaller retail component opened first, in 2014, while the main tower was topped off and completed in 2016.

Up until IconSiam’s Waterfront Residences broke the record with a height of 317m in 2018, Mahanakhon Tower was officially recognised as the tallest building in the country.

The luxury mixed-use development is also home to the Ritz-Carlton Residences and Mahanakhon CUBE which serves up some of Bangkok’s top restaurants as well as Dean & Deluca’s flagship store and L’Atelier by Michelin star chef and restauranteur Joël Robuchon.

Mahanakhon Square is a 1000sqm space for exhibitions, performances and events. 

Future plans include the world’s first Orient Express hotel, scheduled to open in the last quarter of 2019.

Named Orient Express Mahanakhon Bangkok, the 154-key hotel will feature two signature restaurants, Mott 32 and Mahanathi by David Thompson, an Australian chef known for his expertise in Thai cuisine.

Esteemed French designer Tristan Auer has been tasked with reimagining the Art Deco stylings and plant motifs of the original Orient Express carriages into a modern skyscraper.

www.KingPowerMahanakhon.co.th

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