Interstate traffic rises as Malaysia moves towards recovery phase

Social distancing measures in place at a hair salon in Kampung Pandan, Kuala Lumpur, on June 10, 2020. ST PHOTO: SHANNON TEOH
PLUS Malaysia said daily traffic volume was expected to increase by 15 per cent compared to last month. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

KUALA LUMPUR - Interstate traffic rose on Wednesday (June 10) as Malaysia moved towards a recovery phase following nearly three months of strict restrictions that have succeeded in bringing daily coronavirus infections to single digits this week.

While social media postings saw the Penang Bridge that links the island to Peninsular Malaysia - where thousands who work on the island live - return to a familiar rush hour state, intracity traffic was not heavier than before.

This was because Malaysia had already relaxed its movement control order (MCO) since May 4, allowing many to return to work as manufacturing and essential services were allowed to operate.

The Recovery MCO (RMCO) phase that began on Wednesday (June 10) further opened up economic, social and even religious activities. Some states will begin joint prayers at mosques from this Friday with numbers limited depending on the size of the venue.

Appointments began streaming in at hair salons and barber shops the moment Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin announced on Saturday the recovery period that is scheduled to last until the end of August.

Malaysian Hairdressing Association president Michael Poh said many of its members are fully booked for the next fortnight.

"This doesn't mean we are making money... the space capacity in the hair salon is reduced as we have to practise social distancing," he said.

This was after a false start ahead of the May 4 easing of the MCO, when loud objections over the close proximity during haircuts forced a reversal by the government.

Police and military have stood down from roadblocks that were common throughout the MCO and are now focusing their energies towards ensuring smooth traffic flow and adherence to safety guidelines at business premises.

Authorities are expecting traffic on highways to spike this weekend as families reunite having missed out during the Hari Raya celebrations last month, and holidaymakers end a three-month wait for their vacations.

"We are prepared for the increase, which is expected to be between 10 to 15 per cent per day," said Datuk Azman Ismail, managing director of PLUS, which runs most interstate highways in Malaysia.

Senior Minister for Security Ismail Sabri Yaakob said Wednesday afternoon that "traffic is still smooth for now".

"But the police believe many will take the opportunity to return to their hometowns as it is still Syawal," he said in his daily press briefing, referring to the first month of the Muslim calendar.

"As citizens, we must play our role to ensure the pandemic does not spread again. The relaxation does not mean we are free to do as we please and return to life before the MCO."

Many fitness centres and gyms have also begun preparing to meet safety guidelines as non-contact sports are set to resume from June 15.

Fitness First Malaysia group exercise instructor Kong Sei Key said for some classes, the number of participants would be slashed by half.

"This is to ensure that the place is not overly crowded with people. As for those who prefer to work out on their own, there's a time limit for each visit," he said.

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