Coronavirus pandemic

Malaysian army on streets to enforce stay-home order

Army personnel leaving a police station in Kuala Lumpur yesterday. The uniformed personnel will be mobilised in cities and rural areas, including at borders, hospitals, supermarkets and wet markets, to ensure people obey the stay-home order.
Army personnel leaving a police station in Kuala Lumpur yesterday. The uniformed personnel will be mobilised in cities and rural areas, including at borders, hospitals, supermarkets and wet markets, to ensure people obey the stay-home order.PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

Troops, volunteer corpsmen join cops to ensure compliance

Members of the army and volunteer corpsmen from Rela yesterday joined police on the streets of Malaysia to enforce a two-week government order for people to stay home, as the country recorded two more fatalities, bringing the tally to 10.

There were 123 new cases of the coronavirus yesterday, raising the total to 1,306, with 57 per cent of these, or 743 people, linked to the Tabligh missionary group gathering at a mosque in Kuala Lumpur between Feb 27 and March 1.

The Malaysian government called in the military after some people continued to disobey restrictions that had kicked in last Wednesday.

The uniformed personnel will be mobilised in cities and rural areas nationwide including at borders, hospitals, supermarkets and wet markets to ensure people obey the order.

"According to the police, compliance of the order is at around 90 per cent. But 10 per cent is not a small number in a population of about 32 million people. Some 3.2 million Malaysians is still a large number of people," Defence Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob told a news conference.

Meanwhile, police chief Abdul Hamid Bador said six police personnel tested positive for Covid-19, while their family members are awaiting test results.

Malaysia has the highest number of coronavirus cases in South-east Asia. The two latest fatalities were a 48-year-old doctor in Kangar, Perlis, who had a travel history to Turkey, and a 74-year-old man in Penang from the Tabligh cluster, Health Ministry director-general Noor Hisham Abdullah told a news conference.

"Now, we are concerned as the spread may be among the (Tabligh) members," he said, adding that he had engaged with the group and hoped that those who have yet to come forward for health checks would do so immediately.

Malaysia's 14-day restricted movement order, which will remain until March 31, was announced by Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin last Monday after the country saw a drastic spike in cases.

Faced with public anger that several thousand Tabligh members have not come forward to be tested, a group elder, Mr Abdullah Cheong, said they are cooperating with the authorities. The government said it had yet to trace some 4,000 of the 14,500 Malaysians who attended the mass gathering.

Another 1,500 foreign nationals who attended the gathering have brought positive Covid-19 cases back home to Singapore, Brunei, Thailand and Vietnam.

 
 

Datuk Seri Noor Hisham said last Saturday that he expected the number of new cases to spike this week as the authorities continued to track down these participants.

Mr Cheong said on Saturday: "After hearing reports of thousands or participants yet to be screened, many had returned to their district health departments or hospitals repeatedly until their names and details were recorded. We are prepared and have given our full commitment to help the authorities deal with the pandemic."

He claimed that only 12,500 people attended the Tabligh gathering, including foreigners, and not 16,000 as previously announced by the government.

 
 

Meanwhile, security forces in Sabah yesterday detained 12 Malaysian Tabligh members who were returning from a mass gathering in South Sulawesi, Indonesia, that had been cancelled. They have been placed under quarantine.

In Kuala Lumpur, former premier Mahathir Mohamad has tested negative for Covid-19 after taking the test last Tuesday, but he said he will observe the required 14-day quarantine.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 23, 2020, with the headline 'Malaysian army on streets to enforce stay-home order'. Print Edition | Subscribe