Malaysia’s leader announced on Monday a drastic two-week lockdown in the country to slow the spread of the new coronavirus following a sharp spike in the number of cases.
Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin said religious institutions, schools, businesses, and government offices will be shut from Wednesday until March 31. Only essential services including supermarkets, banks, gas stations, and pharmacies will be allowed to stay open.
He said most travel in and out of the country will be banned. All Malaysians returning from overseas will have to self-quarantine for 14 days, following a pattern that some other countries have also adopted in order to slow the virus’ transmission from external sources.
The country recorded 315 new cases of the virus in the past two days, causing its total to surge to 553, the highest number in Southeast Asia. Many of the new cases are linked to a recent 16,000-member religious gathering at a mosque in a Kuala Lumpur suburb that also sickened dozens from Brunei and Singapore, which partly explains why the government announcement also included religious institutions and large gatherings.
Muhyiddin said in a televised message late Monday that the drastic measures are needed to prevent the outbreak from worsening. He said there would be sufficient supply of food and adequate health care, including masks for everyone in a bid to quell potential public panic.
“We cannot wait until the situation deteriorates. Drastic moves are needed immediately to restrict public movement and curb the spread of the virus,” he said.
Malaysia’s response to the coronavirus has been occurring amid wider political and economic uncertainty, brought about in part by the collapse of the Pakatan Harapan (PH) government and coalition shifts that ultimately led to Muhyiddin’s assumption of the premiership at the expense of Mahathir Mohamad, who had executed a dramatic return to power following shock elections in May 2018. Muhyiddin had earlier announced a new cabinet and postponed the first sitting of parliament out to May.
By The Associated Press, with additional reporting from The Diplomat.