KUALA LUMPUR - A full lockdown will be imposed on Malaysia's fourth-largest city, Ipoh, for two weeks from Saturday (May 22) as the federal government considers extending the tough measure throughout the country.
The announcement by Senior Minister for Security Ismail Sabri Yaakob on Thursday came as the Covid-19 situation continued to worsen, with a record 6,806 new infections and 59 deaths reported nationally.
Mr Ismail said that four districts in the state of Perak - Hulu Perak, Kinta, Muallim as well as Larut Matang and Selama - would come under the enhanced movement control order until June 4.
The Health Ministry has recorded a 119.3 per cent increase in cases in the four districts from May 5 to May 18.
The National Security Council (NSC), chaired by Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, is due to meet on Friday and discuss whether to impose a full lockdown throughout the country - akin to the one imposed between March and May last year.
The country's de-facto law minister Takiyuddin Hassan said on Thursday that a full lockdown - in which almost all businesses will be shuttered except for essential sectors - is one of the options that the NSC will consider.
Talk of a full lockdown has been swirling for the past week, following a proposal by the Health Ministry to impose it on one of the country's main economic hubs, the Klang Valley.
But Finance Minister Tengku Zafrul Tengku Abdul Aziz and several business associations appeared to oppose the move, warning of its severe economic ramifications.
Mr Tengku Zafrul said that a full lockdown could lead to up to one million Malaysians being unemployed.
Malaysia's civil service union Cuepacs on Wednesday called for a 21-day lockdown to deal with the situation but also asked that the loan moratoriums granted during the second wave of Covid-19 early last year be reintroduced.
Calls for the moratorium were echoed by the youth wing of Umno, which is part of Tan Sri Muhyiddin's Perikatan Nasional government.
During the previous two instances of a lockdown in Malaysia - in March last year and January this year - the government announced fiscal relief measures to stem the economic fallout.
Mr Muhyiddin has yet to announce anything similar despite reintroducing a lockdown like the one imposed in January. It came into effect on May 12 and is scheduled to last until June 7.
In the current lockdown, many economic sectors remain open despite a ban on social gatherings, travel across district borders and dining-in at restaurants.
Malaysia's vaccination roll-out is currently moving at a slower pace than initially scheduled due to the slow arrival of vaccines. The country was initially scheduled to have started inoculating its general population by May, but it has yet to finish vaccinating those at high risk, including the elderly and infirm.
The government remains confident, though, that the goal to inoculate 80 per cent of the adult population to achieve herd immunity by the end of the year remains attainable.