Malaysians support extended curbs, fear new coronavirus clusters

Green light for gatherings of up to 20 people for Hari Raya celebrations draws some flak

Malaysian health workers checking the details of a resident in an area under lockdown in Petaling Jaya, outside Kuala Lumpur, yesterday. Barbed wire fencing has been installed in the Petaling Jaya Old Town area, closing off three zones to outsiders a
Malaysian health workers checking the details of a resident in an area under lockdown in Petaling Jaya, outside Kuala Lumpur, yesterday. Barbed wire fencing has been installed in the Petaling Jaya Old Town area, closing off three zones to outsiders after 26 coronavirus cases were detected. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

Most Malaysians support the government's move on Sunday to extend coronavirus controls for another four weeks to June 9, but its concession to allow small gatherings for the upcoming festive holidays has sparked fears of a fresh wave of infections.

Lauding the extension of the conditional movement control order (CMCO), Ms Melor Zambri said it is important for Malaysians to make sacrifices now so they can go back to their "old life" sooner.

"The government has been kind by allowing businesses to reopen. This allows us to focus on our personal economic well-being during this difficult time. The least we can do is practise good hygiene and stay at home after work, don't go out if it's not necessary. It's the only way we can beat the virus and go back to how things were before," the 29-year-old food and beverage business owner told The Straits Times.

Malaysia first imposed movement curbs on March 18, under which schools and non-essential businesses were shut, and people were confined to their homes except to buy food and essential items or to seek medical treatment.

While the strict measures helped curb the coronavirus outbreak, it also cost the economy billions of ringgit in losses.

These controls were eased on May 4, allowing most businesses to reopen and people to travel for work. But schools remain shut and large gatherings are still banned.

Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin has warned that the fight against the pandemic is not yet over, even though the number of new daily coronavirus cases has fallen to double-digits over the past week. As of yesterday, the country has reported 6,726 confirmed cases and 109 deaths from the virus.

Describing the CMCO extension as striking the right balance, Federation of Malaysian Manufacturers president Soh Thian Lai said all parties should work hand in hand to flatten the Covid-19 curve while allowing people to survive by earning a living.

"The operations of sectors and businesses under the CMCO will continue to be governed by standard operating procedures and Covid-19 precautionary measures," he was quoted as saying by local daily New Straits Times yesterday.

Malaysian Federation of Hawkers and Petty Traders Association president Rosli Sulaiman said that the extension was for the best.

"I know it's hard for traders because even though they have been allowed to resume business since May 4, the response has not been great. What's important is to make sure we are fully free from the coronavirus," he said, according to the daily.

While the annual exodus to home towns for the Hari Raya Aidilfitri celebrations is barred, the government has allowed small gatherings for the festive celebrations, up to a maximum of 20 people.

This move has drawn flak from several quarters.

"I don't agree with this at all. Do we want a Hari Raya cluster? Twenty people in one house is a crowd, why should we allow that?" 30-year-old nurse Mawar Husnani Ahmad pointed out.

Public health watchdog Galen Centre for Health and Social Policy also criticised the move, saying it is impossible for people to know whether their friends and relatives have been infected.

"There is no rationale given on why the 20-person (limit) is acceptable when 30 isn't, or how risk is reduced and acceptable in a party of 20," said Galen's chief executive Azrul Mohd Khalib.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 12, 2020, with the headline Malaysians support extended curbs, fear new coronavirus clusters. Subscribe