KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysia is taking a tougher approach to ensure compliance with its coronavirus lockdown, even as it imposes stricter measures for Chinese New Year that will restrict reunion dinners to only family members living in the same house.
Senior Minister for Security Ismail Sabri Yaakob announced the more stringent protocols for the festive period at his daily Covid-19 briefing on Thursday (Feb 4).
House-to-house visits are banned and prayers at temples are only for five of the committee members, he said.
Meanwhile Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin promised to step up enforcement, warning that businesses which fail to comply with strict health guidelines could be shut down.
The army, which has been helping police man roadblocks in the ongoing Movement Control Order (MCO), will be given powers to make arrests, he said in a pre-recorded message aired over television and on social media.
“To strengthen the government’s enforcement capabilities in fighting Covid-19, I have issued an order under the Emergency (Essential Powers) Ordinance 2021 to grant police powers to the Malaysian Armed Forces to make arrests, inspections and confiscations while helping other agencies carry out operations against illegal immigrants and Covid-19,” he said.
The government plans to amend laws in order to raise fines for repeat offenders of the MCO and jail them for certain offences, he said.
Under the state of emergency which was declared last month (January), the government can amend existing laws with the approval of the King, when Parliament is suspended.
“The Emergency Management Technical Committee has studied the provisions in the Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases Act 1988, or Act 342, which need to be amended for stricter and quicker action,” said the premier.
Dozens of people typically get hauled up and fined daily, mostly at roadblocks and when the authorities do spot checks on business premises.
“Compliance with SOPs in workplaces, workers’ accommodations and business premises is crucial for us to break the chain of Covid-19 infections. Enforcement measures must be intensified to ensure compliance of SOPs."
Tan Sri Muhyiddin in his speech sought to allay concerns over the country's rising infections, saying that 500,000 front-liners will start getting vaccinations by the end of February.
This exercise is expected to end in April, when the second vaccination phase will begin. This is estimated to involve 9.4 million people from high-risk groups including those aged 60 above, and with health issues such as heart disease, obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure.
Adults aged 18 above are expected to receive their inoculations from May 2021 to February 2022.
Malaysia has signed deals with Covax, Pfizer, AstraZeneca, Sinovac, CanSino and Gamaleya to secure Covid-19 vaccinations for 83 per cent of its 32 million population, in the country's largest vaccination programme.
The premier also shared a glimmer of good news as much of the country entered its fourth week of a six-week MCO, saying that the curve was flattening in a number of states.
"The enforcement of the MCO has resulted in a positive effect in some states such as Kelantan, Kedah, Terengganu and Pahang, which have begun to show a trend of daily cases which is increasingly flat," he said.
But he noted that the number of infections continued to rise in Selangor, Kuala Lumpur and Johor.
Mr Muhyiddin spoke in detail about responses to the pandemic following increasing public pressure over rising Covid-19 cases even as the government has kept most businesses opened, including recently allowing pasar malam (night markets) to operate again.
Confirming a Straits Times report, businesses such as car wash operators along with barbers and hair salons will also be allowed to resume now, said Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri.
The government has defended its actions to allow most economic activities to remain open by saying the country cannot afford to damage further the economy and people's livelihoods, and will instead crack the whip against those who flouted health protocols.
Daily cases in Malaysia mostly stayed above 3,000 a day in the last three weeks, and hit a record 5,728 on Saturday.
The country logged 4,571 cases on Thursday to bring the cumulative total to 231,483, with 17 more deaths to bring total Covid-19 fatalities to 826.