Malaysia lets Heineken resume operations amid virus curbs, draws ire

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Glasses of Heineken beer are seen at a restaurant in Hanoi

KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - Malaysia's move to allow Heineken to resume operations during month-long curbs on travel and non-essential business boosted the brewer's shares on Monday but drew anger from government and opposition lawmakers in the Muslim-majority nation.

Heineken Malaysia Bhd said on Sunday it recently received approval to resume limited operations with a minimal number of workers during the restrictions, which run until April 14. Malaysia has so far reported 3,662 coronavirus infections, the highest in Southeast Asia, and has suffered 61 deaths.

"We have an obligation to ensure continuous supply of our products, maintain the employment of our people and to contribute positively to the economic recovery of our nation," Heineken Malaysia said in a statement on its website.

Its stock, which has lost a fifth of its value this year, rose more than 1% on Monday. The wider market was largely flat.

But federal minister Annuar Musa said on Twitter the decision was not in line with agreed policy and that "action must be taken immediately". Some opposition politicians also called on the government to rescind the permission granted to Heineken.

"If producing Heineken is deemed ‘essential services’ then I can think of another 200 services more worthy of that designation," opposition politician Zaid Ibrahim said.

The Ministry of International Trade and Industry had no immediate comment.

Calls made to Heineken Malaysia's headquarters and brewery near the capital Kuala Lumpur went unanswered.

(Reporting by Krishna N. Das; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)