Penang is sixth Malaysian state with easing of Covid-19 curbs

Penang joins Perak, Perlis, Terengganu, Kelantan, and Pahang, all of which moved to Phase 2 on Monday. PHOTO: THE STAR

KUALA LUMPUR - Penang will become Malaysia's sixth state to transition to Phase 2 of the country's Covid-19 exit plan after meeting several thresholds set by the government.

Senior Minister (Security Cluster) Ismail Sabri Yaakob on Monday (July 5) announced that the state, with a population of around 1.7 million people, would move into Phase 2 on Wednesday. This means more businesses can reopen even though much of the movement curbs under Phase 1 remain in place.

Penang joins Perak, Perlis, Terengganu, Kelantan, and Pahang, all of which moved to Phase 2 on Monday.

More than nine million Malaysians - or nearly a third of the population - will live under more relaxed restrictions despite the fact that Covid-19 numbers in the country remain high, mostly in the state of Selangor and the capital, Kuala Lumpur, both of which are economic hubs.

Under Phase 2, the six states will be on a "positive list" - albeit a broadened one - which will see several more sectors in manufacturing - such as automotive, cement and furniture - operating on top of the 17 essential sectors allowed under Phase 1.

Stationery shops, electronic shops, carwash services and hair salons will also be allowed to operate. Non-contact individual recreation and sport can also resume.

Inter-district travel, interstate travel, and dining-in will, however, remain banned.

Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri said on Monday that Penang's seven-day average was 9.5 Covid-19 cases per 100,000 people, lower than the threshold of 12 per 100,000. Capacity for intensive care units (ICU) in the state has returned to moderate, as more than 10 per cent of its population have been fully vaccinated.

Under the four-phase Covid-19 exit plan announced by Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin last month, Malaysia will only switch phases based on three key indicators - hospital capacity, the number of daily cases and vaccination rate.

The government initially set a nationwide threshold for these indicators, but in recent days moved to evaluating each state separately based on their population ratio, as the bulk of daily cases continued to come from Selangor, the most populous state in Malaysia, and several other neighbouring regions.

Tan Sri Muhyiddin on Monday also indicated that several other states were on track to meet the thresholds required to transition to Phase 2, though he did not name them.

Malaysia recorded 6,387 new infections and 77 deaths on Monday. The number of infections is still well above the initial target of fewer than 4,000 cases nationwide by this month.

Selangor, Kuala Lumpur and the administrative capital Putrajaya collectively accounted for 54 per cent of all new infections.

All except one district in Selangor, which has a population of 6.5 million, is under an enhanced lockdown for two weeks, beginning on Saturday, with only certain essential services allowed to operate. Several areas in Kuala Lumpur are under similar restrictions.

The vaccination rate reached 8 per cent on Sunday nationwide and this is expected to hit 10 per cent in mid-July.

Malaysia will only allow states to reopen most businesses and operate on a so-called "negative list" once they move to Phase 3 of the exit plan. The aim is to return to some form of normalcy after achieving herd immunity by the end of the year.

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