'No choice' but to extend Covid-19 lockdown, but Malaysia health experts call for review

Malaysia has been under full lockdown restrictions since June 1.
Malaysia has been under full lockdown restrictions since June 1.PHOTO: REUTERS

PETALING JAYA (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - The extension of the movement control order under phase one of the National Recovery Plan is necessary for Malaysia to get back on the road to recovery, said health experts.

On Sunday (June 27), Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin said the country will extend its movement control orders until daily new Covid-19 cases drop below 4,000. Malaysia had already been under full lockdown restrictions since June 1.

Universiti Putra Malaysia epidemiologist Malina Osman said current restrictions should be continued given that the average number of daily cases continued to hover at around 5,000, with fatalities numbering more than 80 every day.

"Our healthcare system is still under pressure and non-Covid-19 services have still not been running as usual in the past four weeks.

"Moreover, although there is movement control in effect, in reality we still have many people continuing their routine work on-site.

"These groups continue to contribute to new clusters daily, leading to the high number of positive cases recorded.

"Based on these reasons, I believe we have no choice except to continue with the restriction, adhere to the standard operating procedure and wait for vaccinations to have an effect on the disease's transmission," she said.

But Dr Raj Kumar Maharajah, president of the Medical Practitioners Coalition Association of Malaysia, said the implementation of movement controls under phase one must be reviewed for effectiveness.

"The enforcement of the standard operating procedures is poor. There seems to be no difference with or without the control. It doesn't make sense to extend it when the impact and results are not what we intended," he said.

Various measures by ministries and state governments to expedite vaccinations, especially for employees working on-site, would be a crucial step to stem the emergence of work clusters, Dr Malina added.

"I hope that vaccination coverage for employees working on-site will be completed soon - not just to control the transmission but also to allow them to earn an income and continue with their economic activities," she said.

Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia epidemiologist Azmi Mohd Tamil agreed that the current figures of daily new cases showed that movement controls under phase one must continue.

"However, the authorities should consider loosening some restrictions to give people breathing space. Otherwise, it may lead to disobedience (in observing the rules) and a greater number of cases," he said.

Dr Azmi warned that some people might be feeling frustrated, especially when enforcement appeared to be applied haphazardly.

"The good news, however, is that we are making better progress with vaccinations," he said.