KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysia will further ease its coronavirus restrictions from Wednesday (June 10), with nearly all social, economic and religious activities set to restart while adhering to strict social distancing protocols and safety measures.
Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin announced on Sunday that the government would allow domestic travel and small-scale social activities, and reopen schools in stages under the "recovery movement control order" (RMCO) phase, which runs from Wednesday until Aug 31.
"Health Ministry statistics show that the rate of infection has been dropping and is under control," he said in an address broadcast nationally across social media and television channels.
The movement control order (MCO) was first relaxed on May 4, six weeks after strict restrictions that closed most of the economy and the country's borders were first imposed.
The government has sought to restart commercial activity in stages, amid rising unemployment that has reached its highest in a decade.
Most businesses were allowed to reopen in May, with strict social distancing protocols in place. However, schools remain shut, while large social gatherings and inter-state travel are banned.
But beginning June 10, inter-state travel will be allowed except for areas under full lockdown - also known as enhanced MCO - Tan Sri Muhyiddin said. Schools will also be reopened in stages but international borders will remain shut.
Non-contact sports aside from water sports will also be allowed, but entertainment outlets will remain shut. Large gatherings are still prohibited.
This follows the government's announcement on Saturday that hair salons and beauty parlours would be allowed to open from Wednesday, while open-air markets and bazaars can resume operations from June 15.
Many Malaysians had already begun booking appointments at salons, and are now making plans to return to badminton courts, bowling alleys and hotels across the country.
"I was considering a staycation in the Klang Valley for my birthday next week, but now I am going to scour for promotions in the east coast, or even Sabah," said Kuala Lumpur-based banker Sharon Lee, 40.
The number of new coronavirus cases have largely been in the double digits across the past eight weeks, with spikes mostly due to clusters among undocumented migrants held in detention centres.
Sunday saw 19 new coronavirus cases, taking the cumulative total to 8,322, with more than 80 per cent of patients discharged. The death toll remained at 117.
Mr Muhyiddin said that the RMCO would require the public to take up the responsibilities of the "new normal" with regards to hygiene and social distancing.
He added that if the recovery phase is successful, it would be replaced with a normalisation period after Aug 31 until a vaccine is found.
"But I want to remind everyone that if there is a surge in positive Covid-19 cases during this period, the government will not hesitate to impose the enhanced MCO in affected areas," he warned.
Kuala Lumpur had, as at April, rolled out RM260 billion (S$85 billion) in stimulus packages to cushion the economic blow from the coronavirus pandemic.
The government says these plans - which have cost the Treasury RM35 billion in direct fiscal injections - have saved 2.4 million jobs, ensured cash flow to 11 million people and propped up over 300,000 companies.
On Friday, it announced an additional stimulus package - the "national economic recovery plan" - worth RM35 billion that will cost public coffers another RM10 billion.
Malaysia expects the economy to go into recession this year, with unemployment set to reach as high as 5.5 per cent out of the 16 million-strong labour force.