Coronavirus: Fears of contagion as Malaysians scramble to beat midnight deadline for movement control order

A couple wearing protective face masks cross a street, following the outbreak of the coronavirus in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, on March 6, 2020. PHOTO: REUTERS

PETALING JAYA - An exodus from the Klang Valley as residents sought to beat a midnight deadline for enforcement of a movement control order has sparked fears that Malaysia's containment strategy for the novel coronavirus may have been thwarted.

Google Maps and Waze showed unusually heavy traffic streaming out of the Klang Valley at around 10.20pm on Tuesday (March 17) along the North-South Expressway in both northern and southern directions, according to the Malaysiakini news portal.

A similar phenomenon was observed along the Karak Highway, with motorists heading west.

Long queues were observed at police stations in the Klang Valley and Nilai, Negeri Sembilan, as well, as motorists sought to secure a "permit" to cross state borders after the police announced that those wishing to travel inter-state had to notify the police in writing.

The order was later rescinded after police stations were overwhelmed.

The Terminal Bersepadu Seletan (TBS) bus station was overrun by people hoping to leave the Klang Valley, according to witnesses, though TBS issued a notice that the terminal was not as crowded as depicted in some photos being circulated online, which appeared to date back to the Hari Raya Aidilfitri period in 2017.

Notably, social distancing was clearly not observed at the police stations or bus station.

Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) president Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim said on Twitter that the exodus showed the movement control order had not been well thought out, sharing a photo of the long queue towards the police station.

"Clearly the government did not carefully think though what needs to be done, and there was no preparation to the extent where there is chaos amongst the people in several locations, including at the Bandar Baru Bangi police station," he said on Twitter.

Another exodus took place at university campuses across the company after students were ordered to vacate their rooms and return home, with the National Security Council declaring, "All public and private higher learning institute students are ordered to return to their own residences throughout the restriction of movement order period."

Foreign students were ordered to return to their home countries.

By about 3pm on Tuesday, social media was abuzz over the throngs of people converging at bus stations to go back to their respective hometowns, including huge numbers of students.

The failure to enforce social distancing has been lamented by experts, who have apprehended an increase in the number of cases.

"I am sure my friends in the (Health Ministry) are knocking their heads on the wall," tweeted respiratory physician Dr Helmy Haja Mydin last night.

"Numbers will escalate. Exponentially. Time to prepare for a bed crisis and for more deaths," he added.

The authorities later reacted, with Higher Education Minister Noraini Ahmad urging students not be in a hurry to go home on her Facebook page.

"Being in a rush to go back may make matters worse and students will be more exposed to the pandemic if they do not go through close monitoring," she said.

The NSC, too, revised its policy later that evening, declaring, "Students have a choice to return to their place or country of origin or to remain in campus."

Ms Noraini came under heavy fire for the government's slow reaction to the exodus of students, but she defended herself by pointing the finger at the NSC.

It is expected that thousands of people would have stayed home instead of going to work on Wednesday due to the movement control order, given that many businesses were forced to down their shutters.

Meanwhile, the prospect of taps running dry in some parts of Kuala Lumpur and Selangor due to the movement control order being enforced to tackle the worsening Covid-19 pandemic has been averted, after a contamination issue at four treatment plants was resolved.

Bukit Gasing assemblyman Rajiv Rishyakaran said that the four treatment plants - dubbed SSP1, SSP2, SSP3 and Rantau Panjang - were back online after reports surfaced on Tuesday that they had been shut down due to pollution in Sungai Selangor, the Malay Mail Online reported.

"The treatment plants have recovered and are back in operation. Despite that, time is needed to replenish the reservoirs," Mr Rajiv wrote in a Facebook post.

Air Selangor corporate communication chief Abdul Halem Mat Som had ealier said that unscheduled water disruption was expected in the Federal Territory, Shah Alam, Klang, Petaling, Kuala Selangor, Hulu Selangor, Gombak and Kuala Langat, The Star reported.

"We urge consumers to use water responsibly. The contamination incident has been reported to the Selangor Water Management Authority (Luas) for further action. Luas, Air Selangor and the relevant authorities are investigating and conducting mitigation measures at this moment, " he said.

Meanwhile, Malaysia's Astro television network said on Tuesday that it would offer its customers complimentary viewing of all movie channels to keep them entertained during the 14-day Movement Control Order period till March 31.

"As the nation goes through these challenging times to contain the Covid-19 pandemic via the Movement Control Order, Astro is committed to serving Malaysians by keeping them informed and entertained," it said in a statement, The Malay Mail Online reported.

Among the channels being aired for free are HBO, Fox Movies, Celestial Movies, tvN movies and BollyOne.

In another interesting development, a pair of Malaysian lovebirds tied the knot in a creatively-inspired "drive thru" ceremony, pictures of which have gone viral on social media.

The bride and groom, as well as their family members and guests, attended in their cars, with the couple placing their hands on their chest as a sign of greeting.

A donation box was placed near the married couple and food packets delivered to guests in their cars, according to a post by the wedding planner, Dinas Bridal.

"Reduce contact in open places because we (Dinas Bridal) care," the post said, with the wedding drawing praise.

"Wow, I can save my budget from this type of wedding," commented one netizen, Ms Anis Munirah, as she said the idea, "Can save money from this wedding as one does not need to rent for tables and chairs."

Facebook user Hidayah Zulkakha said, "A stylish wedding like this will always be remembered."

The post was shared over 8,000 times and received 3,000 likes.

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