Malaysia says total lockdown 'unnecessary' despite coronavirus cases tripling since early October

Commuters wearing masks and following safe-distancing measures taking a ride on board a Mass Rapid Transit train in Kuala Lumpur, on Oct 30, 2020. PHOTO: REUTERS

KUALA LUMPUR - Despite Covid-19 cases tripling to over 35,400 in Malaysia since Oct 1, the government is resisting "total lockdown", saying it has learnt how to curb the coronavirus with targeted measures.

The country reported 1,032 new infections on Wednesday (Nov 4), bringing the total to 35,425 and the death toll to 271.

Minister in the Prime Minister's Department (Special Functions) Mohd Redzuan Md Yusof said on Thursday (Nov 5) that it is "unnecessary" to re-implement a nationwide movement control order (MCO) as the country now is at the recovery stage and progressively reopening economic and social sectors with safety measures in place.

"A total lockdown is unnecessary because we are now at the recovery stage with an exit policy.

"The country's crisis management has succeeded in controlling the spread of Covid-19 and preventing health facilities such as hospitals and clinics from being overburdened with a high number of cases," he said in Parliament.

Datuk Seri Redzuan was responding to a question from Barisan Nasional MP Shahidan Kassim, who asked the government to explain why it has yet to enforce the MCO despite the increase in coronavirus cases, especially in Sabah and several other red zones in the peninsula.

Mr Redzuan, however, added that the government would consider enforcing strict movement curbs again if the infection rate surpasses the recovery rate.

"The government is more prone towards implementing a balance-type of controls," he said, referring to measures that contain the virus while ensuring the sustainability of livelihoods.

"This includes educating the people to embrace the new normal, such as exercising physical distancing and practising good hygiene such as cleaning hands frequently using soap or sanitiser," he added.

The number of new cases has hit four digits on some days since Oct 24, with the bulk of the infections reportedly still from the Borneo state.

On Wednesday, Sabah recorded 646 new Covid-19 cases, bringing the total number of infections in the state to 17,519, which makes up 62.6 per cent of the overall figure. Its cumulative death toll is 138.

Sabah is set to hold a by-election in Batu Sapi on Dec 5 following the death of state opposition MP Liew Vui Keong. Sarawak, which holds its state elections every five years separately from the general election, is also due to hold its next polls in the middle of 2021.

De facto Law Minister Takiyuddin Hassan said on Thursday that a state of emergency could be invoked in Sabah and Sarawak to postpone the elections if the coronavirus outbreak escalates further.

"If it appears necessary, the government might consider it. In terms of the Constitution, it can be done," he said.

He said Article 150 of the federal Constitution states that the King had the power to declare an emergency over the whole country or a part of it.

He was responding to a question from Pakatan Harapan MP Hassan Karim, who asked if the government is planning to have an audience with Sultan Abdullah Ahmad Shah again to request that an emergency be declared in certain areas like Batu Sapi and Sarawak.

Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin on Oct 23 had sought emergency powers but the controversial request was rejected by the King.

Instead, Sultan Abdullah Alam Shah had directed politicians to cease undermining the stability of the government amid a resurgent coronavirus pandemic, which the ruler said was being well handled by the Muhyiddin administration.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.