Malaysians debate government flip-flops on movement curbs as Covid-19 cases hit record high

Malaysia's Health Ministry reported that the total number of cases has risen to 155,095. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysia reported a new record high of coronavirus cases on Saturday (Jan 16) with 4,029 daily infections, even as the public continued to debate the government's flip-flopping on what should be shut down during the movement curbs that were reimposed last Wednesday.

Malaysia's Health Ministry reported that the total number of cases has risen to 155,095.

There were eight new deaths to bring the total number of fatalities to 594.

Malaysia reimposed its second Movement Control Order (MCO) for two weeks last Wednesday, owing to a steep rise in Covid-19 cases.

The two-week MCO 2.0 involves five states, such as Selangor and Johor, and the three federal territories, including Kuala Lumpur. The MCO has now been extended to Kelantan state.

The number of Covid-19 cases has stubbornly stayed above 2,000 a day for most of this month.

On March 18 last year when the first MCO was imposed, the daily coronavirus cases stood at 117.

The government has warned that daily cases could reach 8,000 by late March or late May, based on a predictive modelling analysis.

Under MCO 2.0, inter-district and inter-state travel were banned again, and a maximum of two persons per household are allowed to go out at the same time to buy necessities.

But unlike last year's movement restrictions, more businesses have been allowed to remain open.

Public parks in Kuala Lumpur were reopened on Saturday, just three days after the government announced these would be shut to prevent mingling.

To the surprise of many people, a range of shops - from jewellery and skincare to luggage and electrical appliances - are open.

At one Kuala Lumpur mall visited on Saturday, the supermarket was filled with shoppers jostling each other, although only 80 people were supposed to be allowed in at one time.

Carmakers such as Honda and Toyota, meanwhile, have been allowed to continue with vehicle assembly, just days after the companies said they had shut down as the government was concerned about infections in workplaces.

While some welcomed the more relaxed MCO 2.0 as they are worried about job losses and are sick of being stuck at home, others are unhappy.

"This is a half-baked MCO. How will the numbers go down like this?" homemaker Tracy Lim, 50, told The Straits Times.

Shoppers at Mid Valley Megamall, Kuala Lumpur, on Jan 16, 2021. ST PHOTO: HAZLIN HASSAN

During the first MCO, most shops were shut for some three months, with only essential businesses such as supermarkets and pharmacies allowed to remain open.

Entry into these establishments then were strictly monitored by workers to prevent overcrowding.

Public parks were closed immediately after MCO 2.0 kicked in last Wednesday.

But nine opposition MPs representing Kuala Lumpur wards last Wednesday urged the government to reopen public parks, saying these were the "most suitable, controlled and safe locations to carry out leisure activities".

So on Friday, the Federal Territories Minister Annuar Musa said the parks would be reopened, but with no group activities or picnics allowed.

Said lawyer Haslina Hassan, who took her 15-year-old daughter for a run at Lake Gardens yesterday: "The safety protocols are pretty tight and everyone is complying. I feel safe."

More and more stores have also been allowed to open up since last Wednesday, such as optical stores after complaints that they were more "essential" than jewellers.

Barbers and hair salons said they, too, should get the government's nod.

"Many other sectors have been allowed to operate, what about us, please don't neglect us. We need to fill our rice bowls too," Malaysian Bumiputera Barber Association president T. N. Winda Mohd Tahir told the Malay Mail online news.

Malaysia's jobless rate stood at 4.6 per cent in September last year, said Human Resources Minister M. Saravanan last month, against 3.32 per cent for 2019.

Businesses and hoteliers are already warning of massive losses due to Covid-19.

Malaysian Association of Hotels chief executive officer Yap Lip Seng said the industry is expected to lose over RM300 million (S$99 million) in revenue for every two weeks of the MCO.

"The industry will be forced into more closures and laying off more employees with little or no improvements," he was quoted as saying by the Malay Mail.

Some permanent closures have already been announced.

The Sime Darby Convention Centre in KL said on Friday that it was closing, along with three restaurants located there.

Still, for the shops that are open, some consumers may be shying away.

"We only had nine customers yesterday, usually we get about 200 a day. If we close, it is bad for the staff. But if we open, we may get exposed to the virus," said an employee at a store selling personal care products in Mid Valley Megamall, who declined to give her name.

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