Quieter streets and supermarkets in Malaysia as Covid-19 movement controls start to kick in

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KUALA LUMPUR - Malls and streets in the Malaysian capital were quieter than usual on Wednesday (Jan 13) as fresh nationwide movement restrictions kicked in to stem the spread of Covid-19, which saw new cases hit a record 3,309 on Tuesday.

Five states - Melaka, Johor, Penang, Selangor and Sabah - and the federal territories of Kuala Lumpur, Labuan and Putrajaya are now under the movement control order (MCO).

Only essential services in these areas are allowed to operate, and restaurants can open just for takeaways and deliveries.

Only two people per household can go out for groceries, and within a 10km radius from home. Inter-state and inter-district travel is no longer allowed. Anyone breaching these rules can be fined up to RM1,000 (S$330).

Police and military had begun setting up roadblocks nationwide after midnight to ensure compliance.

In KL's Ampang district alone, a total of 145 police and military personnel have been deployed.

"We started the operation at 12am on Wednesday, the moment the MCO came into effect," Ampang Jaya deputy police chief Mohd Azam Ismail was quoted as saying by The Star daily.

Jalan Ampang, one of KL's main thoroughfares leading to the Petronas Twin Towers, saw fewer cars than usual on Wednesday.

However, there was still some peak-hour traffic as more businesses are allowed to remain running compared to the first MCO in March last year.

People who have already bought tickets will be allowed to travel until Friday.

Malaysia is also under a state of emergency which is expected to end on Aug 1 - or earlier, if Covid-19 cases are controlled. Under the emergency, there will be no parliamentary sittings or elections, and the King can make decrees, such as ordering the government to take over private healthcare facilities to relieve the strain on public hospitals. All economic activities continue, subject to health protocols.

Non-essential stores closed

At shopping malls in the city centre on Wednesday, non-essential stores were closed for business, and restaurants and eateries had cleared their tables and chairs, although some jewellery and bath supply stores were seen open. An electrical store also sent alerts to its customers saying they would remain open during the MCO.

Madam Nina Zainudin, 40, who runs a construction company that is building a hotel in KL, said her construction site has to close during the MCO.

"I am worried that we cannot complete the building on time, and we won't be able to operate the business as scheduled. If there is no business, we won't be able to pay our bank loan," she said.

Employees now working from home such as engineer Malcolm Lim, 49, welcomed the switch.

Vehicles travel along a near-empty road during a nationwide state of emergency in Kuala Lumpur, on Jan 13, 2021. PHOTO: BLOOMBERG
A man crosses a near-empty road during a nationwide state of emergency in Kuala Lumpur, on Jan 13, 2021. PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

"I can wake up at 7.59am and still be on time to start work at 8am. Life is indeed good," he said.

Some people are planning to stock up on groceries on Wednesday, after having avoided the panic buying crowds over the past few days. Traffic jams were rife on Tuesday, as people ran last-minute errands and headed back to their hometowns.

"I will go to the market today because I have an empty fridge. I didn't leave the house yesterday because of the rain. I was also busy and didn't want to be stuck behind queues," said home business owner Gina Lee, 38.

"My neighbour said he had to fight the traffic jam and the market crowds to buy ingredients for his small eatery yesterday. Another neighbour told me her brother had to spend three and a half hours to get home from work when it would usually take only 25 to 30 minutes," said Madam Lee, who lives in Johor Baru.

Fitness enthusiasts are happy that they are still allowed to exercise outdoors, unlike during the first MCO in March.

"Although group training is not permitted, it was a great relief that this round of MCO has allowed both jogging and cycling within our neighbourhood," said 16-year-old student and triathlete Omar Karlos.

A view of deserted roads during a lockdown in Kuala Lumpur, on Jan 13, 2021. PHOTO: REUTERS
A man waits to cross a deserted street outside a shopping mall in Kuala Lumpur, on Jan 13, 2021. PHOTO: REUTERS

The new measures are scheduled to end on Jan 26, but they may be extended if deemed necessary.

The states of Pahang, Perak, Negeri Sembilan, Kedah, Terengganu and Kelantan are placed under the less-stringent conditional MCO, while Perlis and Sarawak come under the recovery phase of the MCO.

Under the conditional MCO, most businesses are allowed to operate, but religious, cultural, recreational, and sporting activities are banned. And the states under recovery MCO allow social gatherings and inter-state travels with some limitations such as safe distancing.

Malaysia is experiencing a spike in cases since a third wave of infections began to sweep across the country last September, threatening to overwhelm public hospitals, 15 of which Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin said was already nearing capacity.

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The number of daily Covid-19 cases has averaged about 2,000 in recent weeks, hitting a new peak in daily cases on Tuesday with 3,309, along with four deaths. The country now has a total of 141,533 Covid-19 cases and 559 deaths since the beginning of the pandemic.

Health authorities have said that there have been 71 fatalities this year alone, compared to fewer than 100 fatalities in the first nine months of last year.

This week, three Cabinet ministers have tested positive for the disease. They are Minister in the Prime Minister's Department (Economy) Mustapa Mohamed, the Women, Family and Community Development Minister Rina Harun and Home Minister Hamzah Zainudin.

On Wednesday, Deputy Communications and Multimedia Minister Zahidi Zainul Abidin tested positive for Covid-19 and was admitted to hospital.

Malaysia first imposed the MCO on March 18 last year, shutting down schools and most businesses. The restrictions were eased from May 4.

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