Stricter campaigning restrictions in Sabah as Covid-19 outbreak worsens ahead of state polls

Sabah continued to be the epicentre of the Covid-19 outbreak in Malaysia, with 134 cases. PHOTO: BERNAMA

KOTA KINABALU - Malaysian authorities have tightened campaigning restrictions in several red-zone areas in Sabah, as the Covid-19 outbreak in the easternmost state worsens in a crucial week when a million eligible voters can head out to cast their votes in the state elections.

Malaysia saw a return to triple-digit daily infections on Wednesday (Sept 23), reporting 147 cases nationwide. Sabah, which is on Borneo island, continued to be the epicentre, with 134 of the cases coming from the state alone.

The nationwide tally on Thursday dropped to 71 new cases, with 63 of them in Sabah.

There are three red zones- Lahad Datu, Tawau and Semporna - all of them in the east coast of Sabah.

The Election Commission on Wednesday said that campaigning in the red-zone areas is still allowed, but with tighter restrictions.

Only a maximum of two people are allowed into voters' homes during door-to-door campaigning, while only 30 people can gather in a single location for events such as campaign rallies.

The new restrictions come after two politicians from Umno, part of the federal ruling coalition, tested positive for the virus after returning from campaigning in Sabah. Party supreme council member Mohd Razlan Rafii was hospitalised after testing positive, while information chief Shahril Hamdan revealed on Wednesday that he was infected with the virus.

The Malaysian government relaxed movement curbs on June 10 and the Covid-19 outbreak seemed relatively in control till the emergence of a Benteng cluster in the eastern district of Lahad Datu in early September. The outbreak originated in a detention centre where illegal immigrants were detained in a crowded cell, resulting in the spread of the virus among detainees and police officers.

The outbreak has also spread to Tawau and Semporna.

The situation in Sabah has shown no signs of abating, with the state reporting the highest number of cases for over three weeks consecutively.

In the last 14 days, Sabah has seen 715 Covid-19 cases, which make up around 85 per cent of all the cases reported in Malaysia.

Malaysia has reported 10,576 Covid-19 cases since the outbreak began, with 133 deaths so far.

The Sabah state polls take place on Saturday, with 1.1 million registered voters eligible to take part. A staggering 447 candidates are vying for 73 state assembly seats.

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