JOHOR BARU (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - The Johor Baru district has been declared a red zone after the number of Covid-19 cases surpassed 40 in the span of 14 days.
The district includes JB city centre - located just after the Causeway - and the Iskandar Puteri township (formerly called Nusajaya) that is popular with Singaporean home buyers.
Johor health and environment committee chairman R. Vidyananthan said monitoring and surveillance efforts would be boosted because of an expected increase in the number of cases in the near future.
"The Johor Baru district was declared a red zone on Thursday (Oct 29). Based on information, most of the cases reported involved the spread of the disease among family members and at workplaces.
"Because of this, the state health department has placed the institutions involved under a home surveillance order.
"Ten new Covid-19 cases were reported on Thursday, including nine cases from existing clusters and one from other screenings," he said in a statement on Friday.
The declaration of red zone in Johor Baru is likely a precautionary measure because unlike other red zones in Malaysia, authorities have not imposed any movement restrictions on the district.
Commercial trucks carrying necessities like food products are still able to traverse between Malaysia and Singapore.
The federal territories of Kuala Lumpur, Putrajaya and the states of Sabah and Selangor were also declared red zones earlier this month. But they were placed under a Conditional Movement Control Order beginning Oct 14 as the country battled a third wave of Covid-19 infections that followed the state election in Sabah last month.
Although all economic activities are allowed under the CMCO, social activities and cross-district travel are barred.
Only two individuals are allowed to leave a house at a time. Those who have to cross district lines for work are required to show their work passes.
Originally imposed for two weeks, the CMCO in those areas has since been extended to Nov 7 as the number of cases remains stubbornly high.
Mr Vidyananthan noted that there are currently three active clusters in Johor, namely the Bayu, Kempas and Rinting clusters.
"The cumulative number of positive cases for the Bayu cluster remains at eight as at Thursday, which involved three work colleagues and five of their family members," he said, adding that 104 close contacts have been identified from the cluster.
He added that the Kempas cluster has recorded some 42 cases, involving eight work colleagues, 17 of their family members, 11 colleagues of their family members, five students and one of the student's family members.
Meanwhile, the Rinting cluster recorded 10 cases that involved two colleagues, six of their family members and two friends of their children.
The index cases of the Kempas and Bayu clusters were detected in Covid-19 screenings in Johor on Oct 22 and Oct 23, respectively while the Rinting cluster originated from Melaka on Oct 7.
Although the declaration of red zone may not yet have any impact on residents, it may jeopardise the further reopening of the Malaysia-Singapore border at the Causeway and Second Link at a time when authorities in Johor are eager to revive businesses and repair an economy severely damaged by the closure of one of the world's busiest land crossings.
Both Malaysia and Singapore governments had in July finalised agreements to implement two schemes: the reciprocal green lane (RGL) for travellers on shorter visits, and the longer-term periodic commuting arrangement (PCA).
The RGL facilitates short-term travel for essential business or official purposes between both sides for up to 14 days, while the PCA allows Singapore and Malaysia residents who hold long-term immigration passes for business and work in the other country to enter it for work. These schemes kicked off on Aug 17.
Johor Chief Minister Hasni Mohammad has repeatedly urged the Malaysian government to speed up the reopening of border with Singapore as he said Johor's economy continued to contract with the state expected to record its lowest growth in a decade by year end.
In September, Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin also said he hoped that arrangements can be finalised for workers who need to commute daily between both countries.
Malaysia has been recording triple-digit cases daily since late last month. It recorded 799 new Covid-19 cases on Friday (Oct 30), bringing the total number as of 12pm to 30,889 cases.
Health Director-General Noor Hisham Abdullah said the total number of active cases stands at 10,392 cases, with three more deaths reported.
Sabah has the highest number of infections at 466 followed by Selangor (150), Labuan (65) and Penang (35), he said.
The latest wave of infections was caused by the two weeks of campaigning that preceded the Sept 26 state polls, which drew politicians and election workers from all over Malaysia to the country's easternmost state. At that time, Sabah was already hit by a spike in Covid-19 cases after an outbreak at a detention centre for illegal migrants.
The politicians and election workers have been blamed for carrying the virus back with them to Peninsular Malaysia and Sarawak.
Separately, a primary school in Johor Baru has been told to shut down for a week after one of its pupils tested positive for Covid-19.
A notice on the matter was issued to students, parents and teachers on Thursday.
"Since early March, the school has taken the necessary precautions to avoid Covid-19, and will continue to do so.
"Unfortunately, on Thursday, the Health Ministry confirmed the spread of the disease in the school," said the notice.
It added that the Johor Education Department had ordered the school to shut down for seven days, starting from Friday (Oct 30) to Thursday (Nov 5) as a safety measure.
It was learnt that a Primary 4 student tested positive for Covid-19 and has been sent to hospital for treatment and isolation.
When contacted, state education, information, heritage and culture committee chairman Mazlan Bujang confirmed the closure of the school.