Malaysia's top health official painted a grim picture of the country's struggle against the coronavirus pandemic yesterday, saying new cases could hit 7,000 a day by the end of this month.
The nation was initially projected to record about 3,000 cases by the middle of this month, and 5,000 by the end of the month, said the Health Ministry's director-general Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah.
He was speaking at a press conference at the ministry in Putrajaya, his first since March 4.
"But now, two weeks before the middle of the month, we have recorded more than 3,000 cases," he said, adding that with daily cases exceeding 4,000 in the first week of this month, the figure could worsen if people failed to comply with health protocols.
"We expect 5,000 by mid-May now, and by the end of May, cases may rise to even 6,000 to 7,000, depending on us, whether we break the chain of infection."
He added: "These are a very crucial two to four weeks for us to contain the infection. We cannot succeed without the collaboration of the people. Stay at home if possible. Have an in-house Hari Raya among yourselves just like last year.
"Last year after Hari Raya, there was no surge of infections. Why can't we do it again?"
Several "aggressive" Covid-19 variants from abroad are already spreading in several Malaysian states, with more young people being infected, Dr Noor Hisham noted.
On Friday, he warned that the number of critically-ill patients had hit a record high of 506 admissions, and said the government was adding more beds to intensive care units (ICUs).
His warning comes just ahead of the Hari Raya celebration on Thursday when people typically throw caution aside by travelling to meet families and friends.
Even though travelling between states and districts is banned, Hari Raya visiting is allowed within districts, and capped at between 15 and 25 people, depending on which tier of the shutdown the state is in.
New daily cases hit 4,519 yesterday after Friday's 4,498, which was a three-month high.
Malaysia had until now logged only three occasions when new cases exceeded 5,000 a day, all at the end of January.
The highest number of new cases was 5,728 on Jan 31.
Amid concerns over the rise in ICU patients, Dr Noor Hisham has been posting photos and videos of hospitals and their ICUs recently to raise public awareness.
"We are almost running out of beds. Please stay healthy and stay safe," he wrote six days ago.
The healthcare system is being stretched to its limit with a 44 per cent increase in ICU patients compared with two weeks ago.
More than 20 hospitals designated for the pandemic have reached ICU bed occupancy levels of between 70 and over 100 per cent, while some hospitals that did not previously deal with Covid-19 patients are now doing so, Dr Noor Hisham said.
Private hospitals are also treating such patients.
The government has been widely blamed for failing to discourage people from gathering in large numbers since the Muslim fasting month started last month.
It allowed Ramadan food bazaars to reopen this year and gave the nod for mosques to hold Ramadan prayer services.
Restaurants, which usually shut at midnight, were told they could stay open until 6am.
Dr Noor Hisham warned yesterday: "Because now the cases are very high, if you are infected... if we do not have ICU beds, we are in trouble.
"So then, we don't want to end up like (other) countries, where we have to select who will live and who will die."