Malaysia reports 190 new coronavirus cases, most linked to mosque event

A man wears a mask during Friday prayers at the National Mosque in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, on March 13, 2020. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysia has reported its biggest single-day jump in coronavirus cases, announcing 190 new confirmed patients on Sunday (March 15).

"Based on initial investigations, the majority of these new cases are linked to the cluster involving the 'ijtimak tabligh' gathering at the Jamek Sri Petaling Mosque," said the Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr Adham Baba.

The Health Ministry had announced on Saturday that 77 people confirmed for Covid-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, were linked to the religious event held at a mosque in Selangor.

The gathering was attended by about 16,000 people from several countries.

With the new cases, the tally of those affected by Covid-19 in Malaysia has climbed to 428 people. Of the total, 42 have been discharged. Nine patients are in intensive care units (ICU) in hospitals and require respiratory assistance. This is an increase from five ICU patients on Saturday.

Dr Adham said Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin will meet with the health and defence ministries on Monday to discuss further measures for tackling the pandemic, following the steep spike in infections.

While the ministry did not provide specifics of the 190 new cases, including where they were infected, it said the bulk are linked to the religious gathering held from Feb 27 to March 1.

Authorities estimated about 14,500 attendees were Malaysians. Contact tracing for the attendees is ongoing.

Those from neighbouring countries have been infected as well. In Brunei, 38 of a total 40 cases had been linked to the religious gathering, while in Singapore, five Singaporeans were tested positive for Covid-19. As of Saturday evening, nearly 5,000 Malaysian attendees have been identified.

The rate of increase in Covid-19 cases in the country had slowed down before the spike from March 10.

A mosque in Shah Alam, a suburb in Selangor, announced on Sunday it was closed for prayers after a congregant tested positive for Covid-19 after returning from a trip to Vietnam. However, the state's Islamic department told the mosque - Masjid Al Munawwarah - to reverse its decision and to remain open.

Meanwhile, a lawmaker in Sarawak has tested positive for Covid-19. Sarikei MP Andrew Wong Ling Biu was admitted to hospital on Saturday for treatment.

Other state lawmakers from his Democratic Action Party have been told to self-quarantine for two weeks from their last contact with Mr Wong. Sarawak DAP chairman Chong Chieng Jen said most had close contact with the lawmaker on March 1.

The Sarawak state government has also ordered a ban on gatherings of more than 50 people.

Meanwhile, the new Perikatan Nasional government has announced that it will be bringing back Malaysian citizens from Italy and Iran - the two countries hit hardest by the outbreak outside of mainland China.

There are 323 Malaysians returning from Italy and 55 from Iran. Details on the repatriation have yet to be announced.

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