Coronavirus: Malaysia may deploy army to uphold lockdown as only 60 per cent complying with restrictions

A passenger rides an otherwise empty train during rush hour in Kuala Lumpur on March 18, 2020, the first day of a national lockdown to curb the spread of the coronavirus.
A passenger rides an otherwise empty train during rush hour in Kuala Lumpur on March 18, 2020, the first day of a national lockdown to curb the spread of the coronavirus.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

KUALA LUMPUR (BLOOMBERG) - Malaysia will resort to deploying its army if the public continues to flout the two-week lockdown that the government imposed to contain the coronavirus pandemic.

"If there is no choice, and compliance is still at 60 per cent to 70 per cent, I believe that it's highly likely the army will be deployed," Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob, senior minister for defence, told reporters after a Cabinet meeting on the Restriction of Movement Order on Thursday (March 19).

The country banned citizens from travelling overseas while shutting schools, shops and many public services until March 31 in a bid to fight the pandemic.

Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin urged people to stay home and warned that the government may need to extend the period of lockdown if the measure fails to contain the virus during these two weeks.

Public compliance was only 60 per cent on Wednesday, when the order became effective, prompting the authorities to set up roadblocks to advise drivers to stay home, Mr Ismail Sabri said.

Police will switch to sterner action if Malaysians continue to flout the restrictions, he added.

Police are also tracking down the remaining 4,000 participants of a religious event that ran from Feb 27 to March 1, he said.

More than half of the country's 790 confirmed cases, the most in South-east Asia, were linked to the event, which saw about 16,000 people gather at a mosque near Kuala Lumpur.