KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysia recorded on Friday (Oct 2) its highest daily increase in new Covid-19 cases since the pandemic began, amidst criticism that the country's politicians had flouted safety protocols meant to curb the pandemic's spread.
The Health Ministry said Malaysia recorded 287 cases on Friday, eclipsing the 277 cases reported on June 4.
"This is what we have been worried about; this is keeping up with the trend we are seeing of Covid-19 cases experiencing a spike all over the world," the ministry's director general, Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah, said at a news conference.
The new peak seems closely linked with the movement of thousands of individuals who were returning from the hotly-contested Sabah election held last Saturday (Sept 26).
Many Sabahans, who worked in peninsular Malaysia, had gone home to vote. Several politicians who had visited and campaigned in Sabah have already tested positive for the virus.
Netizens lambasted politicians online for not practising social distancing when campaigning in Sabah's recent state election, and for failing to self-quarantine when they returned home to peninsular Malaysia.
In the past week, Malaysia had consistently registered three digit daily cases.
And since polling day, the authorities had announced measures to curb the infection, beginning with mandatory Covid-19 screenings for all who returned from Sabah since Sunday (Sept 27).
Sabah will also face a 14-day Movement Control Order (MCO) that bans travel among the 27 districts from after Friday midnight. Only essential services and travel are allowed.
A targeted lockdown had been introduced earlier this week in four virus hotspot districts in the east coast of Sabah.
On Friday, the term #klustermenteri (ministers' cluster) trended on Twitter following reports of Cabinet ministers and senior politicians not practising self-quarantine on returning from Sabah.
Among those who received flak was Mr Azman Nasrudin, a state executive councillor in Kedah who is a member of Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin's Bersatu party.
He had tested positive for the virus and had not self-quarantined before his positive result. His wife, a school teacher, also tested positive, causing her entire school to undergo swab tests.
The Higher Education Ministry also came under fire after it asked all first-year university students in Malaysia to delay registering in person because of the spike in cases.
The undergraduates got the instruction after they had already paid for their accommodation.
Twitter user Lydia Chai posted: "Love how I've packed and packed, ready to finally start my long-awaited degree just for me to unpack everything back. Also lost RM400 for my parents' hostel payment. Thanks, Ministers."
Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, the chief of Barisan Nasional (BN) - the biggest faction in the ruling federal government- apologised for the spike in infections and admitted it was directly caused by the Sabah polls.
The election was called after an attempted state government takeover via defections in late July. It led to the dissolution of the state assembly.
Cases in Sabah began to spike in early September following the discovery of a prison cluster in Lahad Datu.
The infection spread to neighbouring east coast districts Tawau, Semporna and Kunak, and by the time the election took place on Saturday, Sabah had recorded 85 per cent of all cases in Malaysia over a two-week period.
The state remains a hotspot with 113 cases on Friday. But a new cluster has emerged in Kedah, with 129 cases.
Selangor recorded 31 cases, most of which were linked to those who had returned from Sabah.
Meanwhile, the spike in cases has dampened talk of a possible snap election in Malaysia that PM Muhyiddin had alluded to earlier. On Friday, BN secretary general Annuar Musa said an election should not be held in the near future.