Malaysia Announces COVID-19 Lockdown

Noah Lee and Nisha David
Kuala Lumpur
2021-05-10
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Malaysia Announces COVID-19 Lockdown Children light sparklers and candles as part of Ramadan-time decorations at an apartment complex in Selangor, Malaysia, May 9, 2021.
S. Mahfuz/BenarNews

Malaysia announced a month-long nationwide COVID-19 lockdown, starting Wednesday – the eve of Eid al-Fitr – amid a coronavirus surge that Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin said “could trigger a national crisis,” as virus-related deaths hit a record high over the weekend.

Portions of the lockdown announced by the PM on Monday took effect right after he chaired a special meeting of the National Security Council. Travel restriction and bans on social activities kicked in two days ahead of the nationwide ban.

“With daily cases exceeding 4,000 cases, and with 37,396 active cases and 1,700 deaths as of May 10, Malaysia is facing a third wave that could trigger a national crisis,” Muhyiddin said in a statement.

“The existence of new variants with higher infectivity, our public health care system capacity which is reaching a critical level and the public’s weak adherence to the SOP [standard operating procedures] have demanded the government take a more drastic measure to avoid the country falling into a more severe health disaster."

The chain of infections, the PM said, can only be broken by encouraging the public to stay home "via a strict movement control order.”

On Monday, Health Director-General Noor Hisham Abdullah said Malaysia had recorded 3,807 COVID-19 infections and 17 deaths over the previous 24 hours – bringing the cumulative totals to 444,484 and 1,700, respectively. The daily death toll fell from Sunday’s record of 26, according to the health ministry.

The lockdown is to run through June 7 – well after Eid al-Fitr on May 13.

Muhyiddin announced that the lockdown bars house or cemetery visits during the holiday, but mosques will be allowed to conduct morning prayers – with limits. Mosques with capacities of 1,000 or more will be limited 50 attendees, while smaller mosques will be limited to 20.

Already in effect is a ban on interstate and inter-district travel with exceptions for emergencies, health care and work.

Social gatherings including weddings, religious ceremonies, birthday celebrations and other government and private events are cancelled. Restaurants will be limited to take out and drive-through service only.

The lockdown also orders that all educational institutions be closed except to students taking international exams. Day-care centers and kindergartens will be allowed to open under health protocols to allow parents to go to work.

Former Prime Minister Najib Razak allegedly ran afoul of COVID-19 protocols, Agence France-Presse reported on May 7. Online videos showed him allegedly failing to record his temperature and his entry into a Kuala Lumpur chicken and rice restaurant in March.

The Attorney General’s Chambers announced that Najib faces a 3,000 ringgit (U.S. $730) fine while the restaurant owner faces a 10,000 ringgit ($2,430) fine for the incident, according to the wire service.

‘Trying its best’

The president of the Association of Private Hospitals of Malaysia praised Muhyiddin’s move, while noting this is not a full movement control order (MCO) because some businesses can remain open under restrictions.

“Because if you close the businesses completely, then you will have other issues that come along with it. You really cannot bring the economy down to a level like how we did in the first round of MCOs,” Dr. Kuljit Singh told BenarNews.

He pointed out that if businesses were required to close – as was the case in earlier MCOs – some could never reopen.

“They will never be able to come back. So, the important thing here is the government is trying its best to reduce crowds on the road and limit areas where crowds are expected,” he said.

Meanwhile, Health Minister Adham Baba said his ministry had received reports of adverse reactions among recipients of Pfizer, Sinovac or AstraZeneca vaccines – but none of the cases required prolonged hospital stays.

“We call for recipients who have the tendency and need to be placed under observation by specialists at hospitals – they need to do this,” he told reporters. “Do not wait to see if cases occur at home. We need these patients to present themselves for observation to see if it has to do with the vaccination.”

Nearly 10 million of Malaysia’s 33 million people have registered to be vaccinated – while more than 1.1 million have received both doses of the COVID-19 vaccine and nearly 700,000 have received their first dose.

In his statement, Muhyiddin reminded people that the battle against the COVID-19 pandemic is far from over.

“I hope the public will remain disciplined and continue to obey the set SOPs to break the chain of infections,” he said. “We have flattened the curve during the first and second wave. I wish to remind all that the third wave that we are currently facing is more fierce and critical.

“We have not won. God willing, we will beat this virus,” he said.

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