KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysia on Friday (May 7) reported 4,498 new Covid-19 cases, the highest in three months, as the government faces a public backlash for allowing Ramadan and Hari Raya bazaars to continue operating in areas placed under the movement control order (MCO).
Malaysia also notched 506 admissions into intensive care units (ICU) around the country on Friday, the highest since the pandemic was tracked early last year.
Selangor state recorded the highest number of infections (1,424), followed by 750 in Sarawak and 436 in Kuala Lumpur. A total of 22 fatalities were recorded to bring the cumulative number of deaths to 1,632.
The government this week imposed a new MCO on Malaysia's most densely populated areas: six of the nine districts in Selangor and the next-door federal territory of Kuala Lumpur.
Several localities in Johor, including state capital Johor Baru, Perak, and Terengganu, are also under the MCO.
"Admission of critical cases to the ICU has increased by 44 per cent nationwide compared with the past two weeks, and several states, such as Selangor, KL, Kelantan and Sarawak, showed an increase in infectivity rate," said the Health Ministry's director-general, Tan Sri Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah, in a Facebook post.
"A total of 22 Covid-19 hospitals recorded ICU bed utilisation rates exceeding 70 per cent, and some reaching over 90 per cent," he said. He added that 295 of the ICU cases require the assistance of respirators.
Malaysia is battling a third wave of infections, with daily case numbers this year all above 1,000 except for one day - 941 cases on March 29. And the government's inoculation programme, meanwhile, is on a slow trajectory due to a lack of vaccines.
Reflecting the current spike in cases, daily infections reported in the last 10 days were all above 3,000 a day except for two days.
Despite the alarming figures, Federal Territories Minister Annuar Musa said on Thursday that the Ramadan and Hari Raya bazaars will continue, though with shorter hours. He said this was because "many traders have stocked up supplies" and "will need to sell them".
The government on Thursday drew more anger by saying it has banned sports and other outdoor recreational activities in areas under the MCO.
"So it's okay to join a big crowd to 'hunt' a baju raya, but it's not okay to exercise or jog alone? Unbelievable," said Facebook user Mohd Sayful Nizam.
Said Dr Adeeba Kamarulzaman, an infectious diseases expert and member of the World Health Organisation's Science Council, on Twitter: "The risk of getting Covid-19 outdoors is about 18 times lower than indoors. Please let the people continue to jog, cycle, play football or any other outdoor sports for the sake of our physical and mental health."
The move has been defended by Deputy Youth and Sports Minister Wan Ahmad Fayhsal Wan Ahmad Kamal, who said that proper evaluation has been made by the Health Ministry and National Security Council (NSC).
"As sports enthusiasts of course we are saddened by this restriction but I'm pretty sure KKM and MKN have deployed all necessary scientific tools and dataset before arriving at this decision. Hopefully things will get better," he said in a response to another Twitter user, while referring to the Health Ministry and NSC's Malay acronyms.
However, the decision was reversed late Friday after the Youth and Sports Ministry made an appeal to the National Security Council (NSC).
Sports and recreational activities without physical contact, such as jogging, cycling and exercising in open areas, are now allowed in MCO areas but subject to strict health protocols.