Malaysia's new Covid-19 curbs criticised as 'half-baked', not going far enough

Malaysia is in the second week of a four-week movement control order, but Covid-19 cases have continued to surge. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysia's "stricter" measures, to be imposed this week to contain the spike in Covid-19 cases, have met with resistance from many who argue that the tweaks are "half-baked".

Experts have also said the new measures are unlikely to go far enough unless they are strictly enforced, and they may take a longer time to produce an effect than a total lockdown.

"MCOs (movement control orders) work only if they are strict enough and long enough... They need to be accompanied by parallel measures. If not, the time bought is just squandered and we will repeat this cycle of MCOs, with deleterious effects on the livelihoods of people," Professor Awang Bulgiba Awang Mahmud, the government's Covid-19 Epidemiological Analysis and Strategies Task Force chairman, told The Straits Times.

Along with the MCO, he said the authorities need to increase contact tracing and testing in the community.

"The directive to reduce contact tracing needs to be rescinded and replaced with a massive effort to trace and test contacts. Non-governmental organisations and other government agencies should be roped in to help as this is a massive exercise," he said, referring to a directive issued in January to test only those with coronavirus symptoms.

Malaysia on Saturday ordered malls, restaurants and shops to operate shorter hours from Tuesday (May 25). They will open at 8am and close at 8pm, instead of 10pm.

The government also wants 80 per cent of civil servants - or 750,000 people - to start working from home, while the private sector has been advised to allow 40 per cent of its staff to do the same.

The new rules add to a May 12 ban on dining in at restaurants and food stalls, which can offer only takeaways and delivery.

Malaysia is in the second week of a four-week MCO, but Covid-19 cases have continued to surge. Dubbed MCO 3.0, it bars inter-state and inter-district travel, and is set to end on June 7.

The stricter measures announced on Saturday did not provide clear health protocols for factory operations although they contribute to at least 60 per cent of work clusters.

Factory worker Fazriyah Nazri, 22, felt the government did not address her concerns.

"I want to know as early as possible if the capacity for the production side would need to be reduced, because that's where most of the infections come from. We need the money but we are also very scared," she said.

"What I can do to protect myself now is to take a lot of vitamin C and isolate myself from my family after coming back from work. It's taking a toll on my mental health."

Others who have taken to social media to express their views include engineer Mohd Zakwan Alim, who said big crowds are likely to form when operating hours are shortened and public transport capacity is reduced by 50 per cent.

"Even if businesses can limit the number of visitors on their premises, naturally, there will be long queues. And with shorter operating hours, we can expect a bigger crowd," Mr Zakwan, 30, said on Facebook. "How would this help?"

He added: "Same logic can be applied when waiting for a bus. If this is what the government calls 'stricter measures', I call it half-baked."

The country has been logging more than 6,000 Covid-19 cases daily recently, with the highest recorded on Sunday, at 6,976.

The surge in cases has strained the healthcare system, including intensive care units designated for Covid-19 patients in hospitals around the country.

The Health Ministry's director-general, Tan Sri Noor Hisham Abdullah, said on Facebook on Saturday that public hospitals in the Klang Valley, including Kuala Lumpur, were working at an average of 113 per cent as more patients fall critically ill.

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