Malaysia extends movement control measures by 2 weeks

Students allowed to return home; Indonesia bans air and sea travel to curb spread of virus

Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin said he is extending the country's stay-at-home order by another two weeks. PHOTO: SCREENGRAB FROM FACEBOOK

Asia's grim battle with the coronavirus continued as Malaysia decided that it would be prudent to keep its citizens indoors a little longer and extended the country's partial shutdown by another two weeks to May 12.

The decision was announced last evening by Malaysia's Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, and comes on the heels of Singapore extending its circuit breaker measures until June 1 to stem the spread of the virus.

Meanwhile, Indonesia, which had earlier banned travel back to home towns for Ramadan and Hari Raya, announced yesterday that, starting today, the country would temporarily ban domestic and international air and sea travel to prevent a further spread of the coronavirus.

The countries in the region are taking these measures despite some recent encouraging data.

"Although the numbers show a positive trend, the measures we are taking must be continued until a point where we are confident that the Covid-19 outbreak is completely contained," said Tan Sri Muhyiddin.

Malaysia's movement control order (MCO), which was imposed on March 18, was into its 37th day yesterday.

Mr Muhyiddin said that the curbs could be extended further, or the country reopened in phases, depending on data from the Health Ministry.

Malaysia yesterday reported 71 new cases of Covid-19, bringing the cumulative total to 5,603.

New cases have tapered off lately, and two more deaths were reported yesterday, bringing the total number of casualties to 95.

In his speech, made on the eve of the Islamic fasting month of Ramadan, Mr Muhyiddin linked the MCO to religious duty.

"Just like fasting, we must fight our desires," he said. He added: "We don't go out, we don't watch movies with our friends, we don't travel, we don't eat at our favourite restaurants. This is a huge sacrifice. But it is bearing fruit."

Mr Muhyiddin said he would soon allow the movement of two large groups of people.

Nearly 100,000 students, now living in campus hostels all over the country, will be allowed to return home. These students were told to stay put at the start of the MCO.

Another group of people are those who got stuck in places other than their homes when the MCO was imposed on March 18. They will now be allowed to return home if they wish to do so, with the police organising their travel to avoid congestion.

Malaysia has shut mosques and banned congregational prayers during the fasting month.

The authorities have also banned the "balik kampung" exodus to villages and home towns during Ramadan to curb the spread of the virus in rural areas.

Meanwhile, in Japan, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said that the country was at a critical juncture, and reiterated calls for people to stay home and avoid travelling back to their home towns during the Golden Week holidays, which begin on Wednesday, to avoid spreading Covid-19 to the rural regions.

Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike said the capital and its surrounding prefectures will designate the period from tomorrow to May 6 as the "Stay at Home to Save Lives Period".

In South Korea, the health authorities are watching nervously as tourist bookings to Jeju Island over the long weekend surge amid loosened social distancing rules.

Many Koreans are to enjoy six days of holiday, starting with Buddha's birthday next Thursday, then Labour Day on May 1, and ending with Children's Day on May 5. The daily booking rate of flights between Seoul's Gimpo airport and Jeju during this period hovers at above 80 per cent.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 24, 2020, with the headline Malaysia extends movement control measures by 2 weeks. Subscribe