KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysia will extend its full lockdown until daily new Covid-19 cases drop below 4,000, and its targets on vaccination and intensive care unit (ICU) bed usage are met, Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin said on Sunday (June 27).
The lockdown was originally due to end on Monday, but Malaysia is still averaging above 5,000 cases a day nearly four weeks into the lockdown. It recorded 5,586 new cases and 60 deaths on Sunday.
The country also spent much of May under a more relaxed nationwide lockdown after a drastic spike in cases beginning April this year.
Tan Sri Muhyiddin did not specify the duration of the extension, but indicated that it would continue until daily new cases drop below 4,000, according to national news agency Bernama.
He said the government will announce a new fiscal relief package to accompany the lockdown extension, to complement the RM40 billion (S$12.9 billion) Pemerkasa aid package announced on May 31.
"This (aid package) will be more comprehensive than what we already have," he told the media after visiting a mega vaccination centre in Selangor, Malaysia's worst-hit state.
The new aid measures are expected to be announced on Monday or Tuesday, Mr Muhyiddin said.
The Prime Minister earlier this month introduced a four-phase exit plan out of the pandemic, with each transition guided by three indicators. The current lockdown is the first phase, while a more relaxed second phase will retain much of the curbs while allowing more economic sectors to operate.
Aside from the daily case figures, the other two indicators are the vaccination rate and the level of utilisation of ICU beds for Covid-19 in Malaysian hospitals.
The country needs to achieve full vaccination for 10 per cent of its population in order to move into phase two, but only 6.2 per cent had been fully inoculated as at Saturday (June 26). Coordinating minister for immunisation Khairy Jamaluddin previously said that the 10 per cent target will likely be achieved only by mid-July.
While there was no specific target numbers set for ICU bed usage, the latest figures showed that the utilisation rate remained above 90 per cent nationwide.
Under the exit plan, Malaysia projects a partial reopening of the economy by the end of August - once daily cases dip below 2,000 a day - while a full reopening, including the lifting of travel bans, is expected to take place in November this year.
News of the extension made the rounds in Malaysia on Sunday, with the hashtag "Kerajaan Zalim" (cruel government) trending on Twitter in the country, with Malaysians venting their frustration with the prolonged effect of the lockdown on livelihoods, and expressing scepticism of its effectiveness.
"28 days of MCO appears to have gone to waste. What is the fate of Malaysians?" Twitter user Hamidah Hamzah asked, referring to the movement control order as the lockdown is called.
"The rich are getting richer. The poor are getting poorer," another user, Auji Zaharudin, wrote.
Many Malaysians are frustrated with the persistence of workplace clusters contributed by factories, many of which are allowed to operate under the lockdown regulations in order to minimise the impact on Malaysia's economy.
The nearly full lockdown implemented last year saw the country losing RM2.4 billion a day, while the current lockdown is costing RM1 billion a day, Mr Muhyiddin revealed previously.
The possibility of a new aid package was indicated by Finance Minister Tengku Zafrul Tengku Abdul Aziz in a Facebook post earlier on Sunday.
"With the National Recovery Plan, this is the right time to reintroduce measures such as (loan moratoriums and provident fund withdrawals) to help the people and businesses," Tengku Zafrul said.
Last year, Mr Muhyiddin's administration introduced a blanket six-month loan moratorium to contain the economic impact of a full lockdown that lasted nearly three months. Many businesses and trade groups had called for such measures again to help communities and businesses cushion the impact of the current lockdown.
The secretary-general of opposition Democratic Action Party, Mr Lim Guan Eng, urged the government not to announce a "cosmetic" relief package for the lockdown extension.
Only RM5 billion out of the RM40 billion aid package announced last month was in the form of direct fiscal injection.
"Why are businesses with no Covid-19 cases have to close due to the lockdown, while factories with cases are reopened after a few days and sanitisation?" Mr Lim asked on his Twitter page.
Umno vice-president Mohamed Khaled Nordin, on his Facebook page, said that the lockdown was still "half baked" and will do little to resolve the issues arising from the pandemic.
He said that the government treated factories - where the cases are sprouting from - like a "golden child".
"The main cause of transmission is not the people who are stubborn or disobeying rules. Daily clusters from the public are at a minimum. But people are asked to isolate and continuously being told to be patient," he added. "This is applying medicine to an area that has no wound."