Malaysia mulling over compulsory use of face masks in public areas, says PM Muhyiddin

The Malaysian government said the battle with Covid-19 is far from over. PHOTO: AFP

KUALA LUMPUR - The Malaysian government is looking at making it compulsory to wear face masks in public places following the discovery of 13 new Covid-19 clusters this month, Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin said on Monday (July 20).

Details will be announced soon, he said, as he raised concern about the relaxed attitude of some Malaysians although the coronavirus pandemic is far from over.

He said that during the period of the recovery movement control order, every individual, every family and every community is a front-liner.

"Family members and the public must always advise one another. Parents must always remind their children to wear face masks when going out and practise social distancing," he said in a speech broadcast live on television and social media platforms.

Tan Sri Muhyiddin said it is worrying that Covid-19 positive cases have been back to double digits since several days ago.

"This shouldn't be taken lightly by all of us. I'm sure you do not want the government to impose a lockdown if there is a spike," he added.

The country imposed a partial lockdown called movement control order (MCO) on March 18, following a sharp spike in cases.

With daily cases tapering down, the government started the recovery MCO from June 10, reopening gradually many businesses and mass activities such as public worship and contact sports.

But the number of new cases has since been slowly edging higher, averaging 14 new cases daily since last Friday.

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Malaysia on Sunday reported the cumulative number of infections at 8,779, with more than 97 per cent of patients discharged after they recovered. Total deaths stood at 123.

Elaborating on the new clusters, Mr Muhyiddin said they had been detected since early this month. Two of the new clusters were traced back to an eatery in Kuala Lumpur and the Stutong wet market in Sarawak, while the rest originated from overseas returnees.

While the number of cases is relatively low compared with other countries, Mr Muhyiddin urged Malaysians not to be complacent.

"Three months of being locked up is enough. Our economy was badly affected, businesses were making losses and people lost their jobs. Should there be a spike that forces the government to implement a lockdown... it would result in the country losing RM2 billion (S$650 million) a day.

"It will also undo all the government's efforts, including saving 2.75 million jobs," he said.

Last month, the government announced a fourth stimulus package for the year, bringing the total spending from public coffers to cushion the blow of the pandemic to RM45 billion.

But the injections have not stopped unemployment from reaching 5.3 per cent, the highest since the 1980s.

"If the MCO needs to be reinforced, businesses are forced to shut down and the unemployment rate would go beyond 5.3 per cent. We must avoid this from happening," he said.

The Malaysian economy is likely to be dealt another blow soon, as a six-month loan moratorium will end in September. The moratorium has allowed all borrowers to defer debt payments, as many businesses and individuals have been struggling to meet their commitments.

Last Saturday, Mr Muhyiddin urged the public to "spend for Malaysia" to help the nation's economic recovery. "Spending can increase the multiplier effect on the economy, create job opportunities and subsequently boost the people's income," he said.

The recovery MCO is expected to end on Aug 31.

The Premier said on Monday: "Let us not be careless and negligent. I want to again remind all of you that the Covid-19 pandemic is not yet over."

He added: "So let us all persevere in our efforts to combat the Covid-19 pandemic."

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