Coronavirus outbreak

KL health chief warns of tsunami of cases if curbs are flouted

A customer having his temperature taken at a McDonald's outlet in Sepang yesterday before getting takeaway food. Dining in is not allowed. Businesses such as malls have to close, although essential service providers, such as eateries, supermarkets an
The KL Sentral railway station in Kuala Lumpur yesterday. Malaysia's announcement on Monday of a two-week nationwide shutdown sparked a rush among Malaysians to travel back to their home towns. But a relative calm descended across the country yesterday. PHOTO: BLOOMBERG
A customer having his temperature taken at a McDonald's outlet in Sepang yesterday before getting takeaway food. Dining in is not allowed. Businesses such as malls have to close, although essential service providers, such as eateries, supermarkets an
A customer having his temperature taken at a McDonald's outlet in Sepang yesterday before getting takeaway food. Dining in is not allowed. PHOTO: REUTERS
A customer having his temperature taken at a McDonald's outlet in Sepang yesterday before getting takeaway food. Dining in is not allowed. Businesses such as malls have to close, although essential service providers, such as eateries, supermarkets an
Businesses such as malls have to close, although essential service providers, such as eateries, supermarkets and pharmacies, can stay open. PHOTO: REUTERS
A customer having his temperature taken at a McDonald's outlet in Sepang yesterday before getting takeaway food. Dining in is not allowed. Businesses such as malls have to close, although essential service providers, such as eateries, supermarkets an
A near-empty train during what would have been the normal rush hour in Kuala Lumpur yesterday, the first day of the national lockdown. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

Empty streets, quiet malls, busy food delivery riders as Malaysians heed order to stay home

Malaysia kicked off its first day of movement control measures yesterday with a warning from the health authorities that the country would face a "tsunami" of coronavirus infections if people did not comply with the restrictions.

The director-general of health Noor Hisham Abdullah said in a Facebook post that the country had a slim chance to break the chain of Covid-19 infections with the measures, which have banned public gatherings, closed schools and businesses, stopped overseas travel for Malaysians and shut out tourists until March 31.

"Failure is not an option here; otherwise, we might face the third wave of the virus. The next one will be as big as a tsunami, more so if we have a lackadaisical attitude," said Datuk Seri Noor Hisham.

His words appear to have been heeded, judging by the empty streets, deserted malls, busy food delivery riders and silent queues at coffee shops yesterday.

In a suburb 20 minutes away from downtown Kuala Lumpur, coffee shops and mamak stalls remained open, but with chairs stacked up as no dine-in patrons were allowed.

People were seen queueing for takeaways in the morning at coffee shops in the residential suburb of Cheras, while a wet market nearby was virtually deserted.

A shopping mall in the vicinity was also very quiet, with its upper floors closed, although the restaurants, supermarket and pharmacy on the lower ground floor remained open. There were hardly any queues at the cashier, and staff could be seen restocking shelves with canned food and toilet paper.

Meanwhile, tourists were missing from Kuala Lumpur's usually bustling Chinatown, with the streets traffic-free and shops shuttered.

But on social media, video clips of Malaysians flouting the control order went viral, with people seen still eating in coffee shops despite the no dine-in policy.

Some public parks were also filled with people despite the government having ordered them to be closed.

Police officers were on patrol yesterday morning, reminding people across the country to adhere to the restrictions. Those who fail to do so can be jailed for up to six months and fined not more than RM1,000 (S$330), or both, if convicted.

TAKE MEASURES SERIOUSLY

Failure is not an option here; otherwise, we might face the third wave of the virus. The next one will be as big as a tsunami, more so if we have a lackadaisical attitude.

DIRECTOR-GENERAL OF HEALTH NOOR HISHAM ABDULLAH, who says that the country has a slim chance to break the chain of Covid-19 infections with the measures, which have banned public gatherings, closed schools and businesses, stopped overseas travel for Malaysians and shut out tourists until March 31.

The movement control order was announced by Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin on Monday night after the country saw a spike in Covid-19 cases at the weekend.

Malaysia remains the worst hit by the coronavirus pandemic in South-east Asia, recording 790 cases and two deaths as of yesterday. Two-thirds of these cases stem from a religious gathering at a mosque in Kuala Lumpur late last month attended by some 16,000 people.

Ahead of the announcement, supermarkets and convenience stores nationwide were already inundated with people panic-buying provisions over fears of a complete lockdown.

The two-week shutdown order also sparked a rush among Malaysians to travel back to their home towns.

Crowds thronged bus stations to secure tickets, even as health officials advised people to practise social distancing.

Long queues also formed at police stations well into the night after national police chief Hamid Bador said travel permits were required for those crossing states.

By yesterday, however, a relative calm had descended across the country.

It would seem Malaysians are adapting to this new normal for the next two weeks, and resigned to staying at home.

Reinforcing the message, Tan Sri Muhyiddin addressed the nation again in a televised broadcast last night. "Stay at home and protect yourself and your family," he said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 19, 2020, with the headline 'KL health chief warns of tsunami of cases if curbs are flouted'. Print Edition | Subscribe