Malaysia extends MCO to Feb 18, tougher restrictions in store

The movement curbs were earlier supposed to end after Feb 4, 2021.
The movement curbs were earlier supposed to end after Feb 4, 2021.PHOTO: AFP

KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysia is extending its near-nationwide movement control order (MCO) by a fortnight to Feb 18, with even stricter restrictions as Covid-19 infection rates continue to soar despite the re-imposition of the curbs three weeks ago.

Senior Minister for Security Ismail Sabri Yaakob said on Tuesday (Feb 2) the government decided on the extension after a National Security Council (NSC) meeting earlier in the day at which "the Health Ministry confirmed that all states under MCO are showing a trend of rising cases".

Only several districts in the eastern state of Sarawak will continue to be under a less restrictive conditional MCO.

The rest of the country has been under more stringent regulations since Jan 13. Dubbed MCO 2.0, the movement controls were supposed to end on Feb 4.

Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri, who is also Defence Minister, cited limiting the number of people allowed in supermarkets as an example of tighter regulations to come into effect.

New standard operating procedures (SOP) for the MCO would be issued by the NSC in due time, he said.

But the senior minister said the government would still be considering requests from businesses to resume operations which were suspended when the MCO was re-imposed after the number of daily Covid-19 persisted in the four-digits for nearly two months.

"We are giving more leeway to economic sectors especially small businesses because we understand a full lockdown will be most difficult for the poorest," he said.

Tougher measures under the original MCO early last year successfully brought daily infections down to single digits. The current iteration allows manufacturing, construction and various services to remain in business and this has coincided with record spikes in the number of cases. Over 5,000 patients were logged for three consecutive days at the end of last week.

The extension announced on Tuesday will limit celebrations for Chinese New Year, and the government will only announce specific rules a few days before the festival on Feb 12.

But Mr Ismail Sabri has appeared to rule out interstate travel, citing it as a major source of new Covid-19 clusters.

Malaysia on Tuesday reported 3,455 new cases and a record 21 deaths, bringing the total number of cases and lives lost to 222,628 and 791 respectively.

At his press conference, Mr Ismail Sabri also said that the NSC had outlined 10 strategies to tackle the worsening situation. These include stricter laws approved under the seven-month-long emergency that began on Jan 11, more aggressive enforcement activities, stricter screening and pursuing a national vaccination programme.

Science, Technology and Innovation Minister Khairy Jamaluddin, who co-chairs Malaysia’s Covid-19 vaccine committee, has said the vaccines "will be delivered on schedule beginning this month".