KUALA LUMPUR - The Malaysian police have turned back hundreds of motorists who were trying to travel across districts or states despite a government ban, with some of them using excuses such as trying to send Hari Raya cookies and clothes to friends and family members.
The motorists were caught at roadblocks mounted by the police as the government imposed inter-district travel from Saturday, in addition to the inter-state travel in a desperate bid to reduce Covid-19 infections.
Malaysia's biggest annual festival, Hari Raya Aidilfitri, will be celebrated on Thursday (May 13), with many people usually travelling to meet families and friends.
Health officials have warned that daily coronavirus infections, now hovering between 3,000 and 5,000, could surge to 7,000 by the end of this month if people continue to crowd malls and Ramadan bazaars.
Malaysia reported a record 26 Covid-19 deaths on Sunday and 3,733 daily new cases.
The government is rushing to add beds in intensive care units (ICU), which are 90 per cent full in some of the 22 government hospitals treating Covid-19.
"We have already mounted the roadblocks from (Sunday) and found that thus far there were still many stubborn road users attempting to do inter-state travel without valid reasons," Petaling Jaya district police chief Mohamad Fakhrudin Abdul Hamid told Bernama news agency on Sunday.
"They were ordered to turn back. Among their reasons were sending clothes to friends' houses in Shah Alam, buying goods, taking families for a shopping trip in the Shah Alam area," he added.
At the Kelantan border last Saturday, police turned back more than 500 vehicles attempting to enter the state without inter-state travel permits, Kelantan police chief Shafien Mamat was quoted as saying by The Star daily.
A camera mounted by the Malaysian Highway Authority that day captured hundreds of cars heading from Kuala Lumpur and Selangor towards eastern Pahang state despite the travel ban.
Malaysia has 13 states and three federal territories, with travelling between them banned unless for work purposes.
The inter-district ban means that a person in, say, any of Selangor's 13 districts, cannot cross into another district except for work such as food or parcel delivery.
The government has banned the pre-Hari Raya balik kampung (return to hometown) exodus for the second consecutive year, but had earlier allowed people living in the same state to visit one another for the festival. The government has now banned Hari Raya gatherings.
This is the first time inter-district travel curbs and a ban on gatherings have been imposed nationwide since March last year.
Former premier Mahathir Mohamad on Monday warned that Malaysia could suffer the same fate as India and Brazil, with many thousands of infections a day, should people disregard health protocols by gathering in crowds.
"There is no need for us to visit the homes of friends and relatives. Because that's not a good visit, as maybe we'll get infected or they'll get infected," he said in a special address on Facebook.
"We need to be patient in this year's celebration because we want to see this disease reduced by our actions."