COVID-19 Southeast Asia Update: April 1, 2020.
Legal News & Analysis - Asia Pacific - ASEAN - Regulatory & Compliance
2 April, 2020
As the impact of the COVID-19 epidemic continues to unfold, Tilleke & Gibbins is dedicated to ensuring that you receive the most up-to-date legal developments across Southeast Asia, in a practical and direct format, to ensure that your business can comply with new regulations quickly and effectively.
With the situation developing rapidly, we understand that it can be difficult to keep up with developments, and as such we will be sending a weekly round-up of the key developments in the region. In addition, all our articles and alerts are available in full at the Tilleke & Gibbins COVID-19 Resource Center.
Here are the most significant developments for the week up to April 1, 2020.
- Cambodia. While the Cambodian government has yet to declare a formal state of emergency, it has taken a number of proactive steps to minimize COVID-19 transmission, such as prohibiting large religious gatherings and closing museums, cinemas, and nightlife venues. On March 30, Cambodia's Ministry of Economy and Finance ordered that casinos be closed from April 1 onward, while the country will also halt rice exports by April 5. Limited tax relief measures have been made available to businesses operating in the garment and tourism sectors, and the National Bank of Cambodia has instructed banks and financial institutions to develop loan restructuring plans for customers engaged in tourism, food and beverages, garment, residential construction and mortgages, and transportation and logistics.
- Indonesia. Following the announcement of a state of emergency in Jakarta, the Indonesian IP office and other government bodies have limited their operations until at least April 21, with courts suspending most (but not all) cases. Online filings for trademarks, patents, and copyright remain available, and court trials of some IP cases continue, subject to judicial discretion.
- Laos. On March 29, the Prime Minister's office initiated sweeping lockdown measures, nominally until April 12 (which in practice extends through April 19, due to upcoming public holidays) requiring the majority of citizens to remain in their homes. Exceptions are made for matters deemed necessary such as shopping for food, attending medical appointments, and carrying out essential work as determined by the government. The Ministry of Ministry of Science and Technology has confirmed that the Department of Intellectual Property is not deemed essential work, and will be closed from April 1, currently scheduled to reopen on April 20 subject to any further extensions. Categories of essential work include some (but not all) government functions, operation of public utilities, health and medical services, food market and supermarket workers, etc. Factories are expressly required to close. The Ministry of Finance has extended deadlines for companies to file financial reports until April 30, allowing the possibility of further extension should the situation not improve by then. The Bank of Laos has urged commercial banks to restructure debts and lower interest rates on outstanding loans.
- Myanmar. The Myanmar government has reduced government office staff by 50%, with workers operating on a rotating basis. The government also announced that all commercial flights will be denied permission to land at Myanmar airports, following an earlier announcement that all foreign visa applications will be denied. Social security payments, which employers are usually required to pay monthly, were moved to a quarterly payment system. Mandatory workplace measures to prevent the spread were introduced.
- Thailand. The Thai government has activated an emergency decree that grants it sweeping executive powers to limit the spread of the virus. To date these have been exercised to ban entry to the country by non-Thai citizens (subject to limited exceptions, including foreign citizens with valid work permits); close all entertainment venues and restaurants (except for the purposes of delivery and takeaway); and implement health check roadblocks throughout the country. Several provincial governments have gone further, including the provincial authority covering the popular tourist island of Phuket, announcing full lockdowns to prevent all access or egress. Thailand's judiciary has postponed most hearings until the end of May 2020, subject to limited exceptions. While government offices generally remain open, some have also taken measures to limit access to the public, including the Department of Lands. The Ministry of Commerce offered flexibility from company AGM requirements, waiving the fine for those delayed by COVID-19, although applications for the waiver must be made and considered on a case-by-case basis. The Department of Lands encouraged condominium juristic persons to hold AGMs by other means, or to limit attendance by using proxies. To mitigate some of the financial impact of the situation, the government has implemented two waves of substantive tax relief measures: the first on March 10, including reductions of Withholding Tax, additional deductibles for SMEs, and accelerated VAT refunds; and the second on March 24, including personal tax relief for medical expenses and those in the medical profession, and extensions of corporate tax filing deadlines. Tax relief has also been made available for non-financial institution creditors to support debt restructuring. In addition, social security contribution requirements have been reduced to provide relief to both employers and employees.
- Vietnam. On March 31, the Vietnamese government ordered mandatory social distancing across the country and prohibited gatherings of more than two people. Some companies can remain open, but factories must observe certain precautions, public transportation will be suspended, and state agencies must work from home. This increases restrictions imposed by earlier orders including travel restrictions, suspension of the issuance of visas on arrival for all foreign nationals, subject to very limited exceptions assessed on a case-by-case basis, and limitation of gatherings. Substantial financial relief has also been proposed, but little has yet been formally implemented. Updates on those are expected in the near future. The Intellectual Property Office of Vietnam is closed until further notice. IP deadlines falling between March 30, 2020, and April 30, 2020, will automatically be extended until May 30, 2020 However, filings remain available by post and online.
For further information, please contact:
Darani Vachanavuttivong, Partner, Tilleke & Gibbins