Malaysian PM Muhyiddin explains why strictest version of lockdown to contain Covid-19 not imposed

People in protective suits taking part in the burial of a Covid-19 victim at a cemetery in Gombak, Selangor, on Sunday.
People in protective suits taking part in the burial of a Covid-19 victim at a cemetery in Gombak, Selangor, on Sunday.PHOTO: REUTERS

KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysia's Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin said on Sunday (May 23) that the government could not reimpose the strictest version of a movement control order (MCO), following calls to re-implement it, because of the deep damage done by last year's lockdown to Malaysians' livelihoods.

Although he acknowledged that an MCO would be the best option to contain the virus, Tan Sri Muhyiddin said implementing it last year nearly led the country to economic collapse and hundreds of billions were required to help the economy recover.

Instead, the government has introduced tighter restrictions without requiring a complete lockdown.

"Personally, even though I'm not a doctor, that's the best way to contain the virus. This method has proven to be the most effective and also the easiest for the government, but we didn't have any experience handling this pandemic before," Mr Muhyiddin said in an exclusive interview aired on Bernama TV.

"We shut down everything during the MCO 1.0 and, because of that, Malaysians suffered, the country suffered, we lost RM2.4 billion (S$769 million) daily and unemployment shot up. I don't want Malaysians to die of the coronavirus, I also don't want Malaysians to die of starvation, so this is how we arrived at MCO 3.0," he said, adding that the government had to spend RM340 billion across six stimulus packages to revive the economy.

Malaysia implemented the first MCO in March last year, requiring people to stay at home and businesses to shutter, while social activities were barred.

However, businesses were allowed to operate when the second MCO went into effect in January this year, in a move to limit further economic damage.

The country is currently into the second week of a four-week MCO barring inter-state and inter-district travel, dubbed MCO 3.0, but Covid-19 cases have continued to surge in recent weeks, forcing the government to introduce new, stricter measures.

Malls, restaurants and shops have been ordered to operate shorter hours from Tuesday.

The government also wants 80 per cent of civil servants - or 750,000 people - to start working from home, while the private sector has been advised to allow 40 per cent of its staff to do the same.

The new rules come on top of a May 12 ban on dining in at restaurants and food stalls, which can offer only takeaway and delivery.

The latest movement control order is set to end on June 7.

It does not, however, provide clear health protocols for factory operations, although these have contributed to at least 60 per cent of work clusters.

This led to Malaysians expressing their dissatisfaction on social media, with some labelling the current MCO "half-baked".

Responding to this while addressing the changing health protocols, Mr Muhyiddin said decisions must be made according to the situation.

"I'm aware of what people are saying and I know people don't like being controlled. Some are confused, some are angry, some feel we're going back and forth. Why? Because the situation is fluid and uncertain, so our decision must be made according to our current circumstance," he said.

"Let's not point our fingers, let's just work together. Practise self-lockdown and stay safe."

The country has logged more than 6,000 Covid-19 cases daily recently, with the highest number recorded on Sunday, at 6,976.

The surge in cases has strained the healthcare system, including intensive care units designated for Covid-19 patients in hospitals around the country.

The Health Ministry's director-general, Tan Sri Noor Hisham Abdullah, said on Facebook on Saturday that public hospitals in the Klang Valley, including Kuala Lumpur, have exceeded their intensive care unit capacity as more patients fall critically ill.