Coronavirus outbreak

Muhyiddin urges calm as Malaysia curbs movement

Travel and mass gatherings banned but essential services will continue operating

Tourists are not allowed to enter the country, while Malaysians are banned from travelling overseas.
Tourists are not allowed to enter the country, while Malaysians are banned from travelling overseas.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin called for calm yesterday as he announced measures to control the movement of residents nationwide to tackle the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.

"The government has decided to implement the movement control order, starting March 18, 2020... until March 31, 2020, nationwide," he said in an address which was telecast live to the nation.

"I hope that you will be patient in facing this challenge. Do not panic, do not be anxious, and stay calm. I believe that with these measures by the government, we will be able to combat the spread of this outbreak soon," he said.

The order includes a ban on mass gatherings, including all religious, sporting, social and cultural events. Houses of worship and businesses are to close, but supermarkets, markets, mini-markets and convenience stores will remain open.

All schools, universities and businesses will be shuttered but those providing essential services will continue to operate during the two-week period. These essential services include utilities, transport, banking, healthcare and security.

"I would like to assure you that food supplies, everyday necessities and healthcare products like face masks are adequate," he said.

Travel will also be restricted, with Malaysian citizens barred from travelling overseas and tourists denied entry into the country.

It is not known if the hundreds of thousands of Malaysians who cross the Causeway daily to go to work in Singapore will also be affected.

Acknowledging that the measures were drastic, Tan Sri Muhyiddin said they were necessary to curb the spread of the virus.

Malaysia reported 125 fresh cases of the coronavirus yesterday, bringing the total to 553 patients.

It had recorded its highest single-day jump in cases on Sunday, with 190 confirmed new infections. The bulk of the new cases were linked to a mass religious gathering by the Tabligh missionary group from Feb 27 to March 1 attended by some 16,000 people, including Singapore and Brunei nationals.

As of yesterday, some 7,000 attendees have been tested for the virus. Ninety-five of them tested positive yesterday, bringing the total number of cases linked to the gathering to 338.

Earlier yesterday, the de facto minister in charge of religious affairs had announced that mosques are to close and cease all activities for 10 days.

"All activities at mosques and suraus (prayer houses), including Friday prayers and congregational prayers, will be postponed beginning from March 17 to 26, 2020," Datuk Seri Zulkifli Mohamad Al-Bakri said in a statement.

Mosque and surau committees are advised to clean and disinfect their premises to prevent infections, he added.

The decision was made following a briefing by the Health Ministry and a special meeting of Islamic leaders in administrative capital Putrajaya on Sunday. It was announced yesterday after the Malaysian King, Sultan Abdullah Ri'ayatuddin, gave permission to do so.

Mr Muhyiddin also announced yesterday that an additional RM620 million (S$204 million) will be spent to help the economy withstand the effects of the pandemic.

This adds to the RM20 billion economic stimulus package unveiled by the previous government late last month to deal with the outbreak.

The additional expenditure will cover a RM500 million provision for a 2 per cent discount on electricity tariffs for the commercial, industrial and agriculture sectors and domestic users from April 1 to Sept 30.

Another RM120 million will take the form of monthly handouts of RM600 each to 33,000 workers earning below RM4,000 a month for six months. The financial aid will be given to those who have been served no-pay notices by their employers from this month.

"The government will continue to implement responsible fiscal management and business-friendly measures to attract quality investments," Mr Muhyiddin said after a meeting of the newly formed Economic Action Council.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 17, 2020, with the headline 'Muhyiddin urges calm as Malaysia curbs movement'. Subscribe