KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysia's Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin on Monday (Jan 11) announced fresh nationwide movement restrictions to curb the soaring number of Covid-19 cases.
Five states - Melaka, Johor, Penang, Selangor and Sabah - and the federal territories of Kuala Lumpur, Labuan and Putrajaya will re-enter the movement control order (MCO), where social gatherings are banned and dine-ins are not allowed in eateries.
Only two people per household are allowed to go out and buy groceries, and they can only travel within a 10km radius from home.
"Our health system can no longer afford to handle 2,000 daily Covid-19 cases. It is at a breaking point," Tan Sri Muhyiddin said in a televised address.
"To break the Covid-19 chain, the government, with the advice of the Health Ministry, has decided to implement the movement control order (MCO) for a period of 14 days."
The new measures will kick in from Wednesday to Jan 26.
The states of Pahang, Perak, Negeri Sembilan, Kedah, Terengganu and Kelantan will be placed under the less-stringent conditional MCO, while Perlis and Sarawak will be placed under the recovery phase of the MCO.
Under the conditional MCO, most businesses are allowed to operate but religious, cultural, recreational, and sporting activities are banned. And the states under recovery MCO allow social gatherings and inter-state travels with some limitations such as safe distancing.
Leader of the Opposition Anwar Ibrahim said the MCO announced on Monday was not an end in itself and that other measures, such as mass testing and better contact tracing, were needed to curb infections. He also noted that the shutdown would adversely affect businesses and livelihoods.
"The government must step up immediately to announce a further RM500 million in financial aid for the next two weeks as well as other aid such as wage subsidy programmes and assistance for businesses that are directly impacted," he said in a statement issued yesterday. He added that the government should direct banks to reinstate a moratorium on loan repayments.
Malaysia is experiencing a spike in cases since a third wave of infections began to sweep across the country from September, threatening to overwhelm the public hospitals, 15 of which Mr Muhyiddin said was already nearing capacity.
The country recorded 2,232 new cases and 4 new deaths on Monday. It now has a total of 138,224 Covid-19 cases and 555 deaths since the beginning of the pandemic.
Health director-general Noor Hisham Abdullah on Sunday said he was particularly worried about the high number of deaths in recent weeks. Since Jan 1, there have been 71 fatalities. In comparison, there had been fewer than 100 fatalities recorded in the first nine months of 2020. The number of daily cases, which has averaged about 2,000 in recent weeks, reached a record of 3,027 on Jan 7.
Two more Cabinet ministers tested positive for the disease over the weekend.
Economic Affairs Minister Mustapa Mohamed tested positive for the coronavirus last Saturday, three days after he attended a Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Bersatu) meeting at which Mr Muhyiddin and several other Cabinet members were present.
Datuk Seri Rina Mohd Harun, the Women, Family and Community Development Minister, tested positive for the disease on Sunday. She was admitted to hospital on Monday.
Two other ministers who sat next to Datuk Seri Mustapa at the Wednesday meeting, namely Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Mohd Redzuan Yusof and Communications and Multimedia Minister Saifuddin Abdullah, have gone into quarantine.
Mr Mustapa was the second minister to have tested positive for the disease, after Minister in the Prime Minister's Department (Religious Affairs) Zulkifli Mohamad Al-Bakri announced that he was infected in October last year.
The latest surge in infections was blamed on the political campaigners who returned from the Sabah state after the Sept 26 state election, bringing with them the disease that caused a spike in infections across the peninsula.
The soaring number of cases is also taking a toll on Malaysia's front-line workers. In December, the health ministry said 1,771 healthcare workers - majority of whom were nurses - had been infected by Covid-19 since the start of the pandemic. Two-thirds of those cases were reported in the third wave of the infections.
Last week, Tan Sri Dr Noor Hisham had called for a targeted lockdown, although businesses have expressed concerns that wider restrictions would further damage the economy.
Malaysia first imposed the MCO on March 18 last year, shutting down most businesses, malls, restaurants. It also barred the public from attending any social gatherings.
The restrictions were eased on May 4 to allow the business sectors to resume operations as the number of cases reduced.
It then entered a recovery phase, called the recovery movement control order (RMCO), on June 9.
But the government imposed a conditional movement control order (CMCO) in the capital Kuala Lumpur, the state of Selangor and Putrajaya, and several areas, amid a resurgence of cases triggered by the September Sabah election.
Prior to this, the government had not restricted interstate and inter-district travel in much of Malaysia.