PETALING JAYA (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - With Malaysia's two-week lockdown due to expire on Monday (June 14), its government is said to be eyeing an extension as the number of daily coronavirus infections has yet to dip below 4,000 and the deaths remain high.
The National Security Council which is scheduled to meet on Friday is expected to discuss the lockdown extension though Cabinet ministers kept mum about the meeting agenda.
"We will sit, as we do every Friday evening. The agenda is usually the presentation from the Health Ministry but I am not sure what will be presented," said Senior Minister and Defence Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob.
Datuk Seri Ismail is also the minister in charge of the announcement of Covid-19 measures and the Movement Control Order (MCO).
"We will discuss collectively in the NSC on all related matters," said International Trade and Industry Minister Azmin Ali. "Wait for the decision by NSC," said another minister.
A source told The Star newspaper that when the lockdown was first decided, the ministers had thought that two weeks was too short to contain the pandemic and the issue of lockdown extension would be discussed in Friday's meeting.
"When the government first decided on the lockdown, we knew it was unlikely we would be able to bring the pandemic to a controllable level in two weeks. This was also discussed then (when we decided on the first phase), but we decided to go for two weeks first.
"The NSC would now have to decide, based on facts and figures, if an extension is needed to save lives but we would also have to look at saving livelihoods, which is another worry in the current economic downturn," said the source.
NSC meetings are confidential and the only people who can speak on its decisions are the Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, Mr Ismail Sabri and Health director-general Noor Hisham Abdullah.
Another source also pointed out that the government knew from the start that two weeks of any kind of lockdown would not be enough, and for that reason, the letters of approval issued by the government for businesses to operate during the lockdown do not carry an expiry date.
"It merely states that one can operate from June 1 under the current lockdown but it does not state anywhere that the lockdown ends on June 14. Therefore, it is likely that the same operating letters can continue to be used should there be an extension of the current lockdown," said the source.
On Wednesday, the Health Ministry stated that the country's Rt - an indicator of Covid-19 transmission rate - has reduced to below 1.0 to 0.96.
"The number of daily cases have also dropped and this has to do with the MCO which is currently in place from June 1 to 14," said the Health Ministry on its Facebook.
On May 28, the Prime Minister announced that the country will go into a lockdown for 14 days from June 1, with only the essential economic and service sectors being allowed to operate.
At that time, the healthcare system was deemed to be on the brink of collapse as the number of daily cases had breached the 8,000 mark and new variants had emerged.
Mr Muhyiddin then said should this first phase of lockdown succeed in reducing the number of daily cases, the government would move on to the second phase of four weeks that allows some economic sectors to open provided no large gatherings are involved and physical distancing is practised.
"Phase two of the lockdown is expected to last for four weeks after Phase one ends.
"After that, phase three would start with the implementation of the Movement Control Order where no social activities are allowed," Mr Muhyiddin had said, stating that all decisions to move from one phase to the next is subject to risk assessments by the Health Ministry.
Malaysia on Thursday recorded 5,671 Covid-19 cases, bringing the cumulative total to 639,562. There are 3,684 deaths so far with 73 new fatalities.
Meanwhile, the health ministry has detected 60 festival clusters over the past three weeks, which were attributed to the Hari Raya Aidilfitri and Hari Gawai holidays.
Mr Noor Hisham said from May 13 to June 10, there have been 58 clusters linked to Hari Raya Aidilfitri, while the ministry recorded two clusters linked to the Hari Gawai festival.
"With these clusters, a total of 13,023 individuals have been screened in which 3,511 Covid-19 cases have been recorded, making the positivity rate at 27 per cent.
"Of the 3,511 cases, 20 deaths were reported and, to date, 11 cases are still in the intensive care unit (ICU)," he said in a statement on Thursday (June 10).
Dr Noor Hisham said the states that recorded the highest festival clusters were Sabah with 11 clusters, followed by Sarawak (eight clusters) and Kedah (seven clusters).
Kelantan and Perak recorded six clusters each, while Johor and Pahang each recorded five clusters.
Melaka recorded three clusters, while Penang, Selangor, Labuan recorded two clusters each.
Terengganu, Negeri Sembilan and Kuala Lumpur recorded one cluster each.
"The increasing cases and deaths in these festival clusters is serious and worrying, as it occurred in such a short period of time," Mr Noor Hisham said.
"If the community remains complacent and does not take heed nor learn from the mistakes of visiting and inter-state activities during the festive season, it is not impossible for another sudden increase in cases to recur in our country."