Malaysia imposes near-total lockdown after virus cases soar

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Kuala Lumpur: Malaysia’s Prime Minister has announced a near-total coronavirus lockdown in the country, with social and economic activities to be halted for two weeks to contain a worsening outbreak.

Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin said the decision to implement the lockdown starting on June 1 came after new infections breached 8000 on Friday for the first time, sparking fears the disease could spiral out of control.

A swab is taken from a boy at a COVID-19 testing centre in Kuala Lumpur this week.Credit:AP

The government earlier this month imposed a partial lockdown until June 7, stopping short of shutting down businesses to prevent a possible economic catastrophe. But new infections have climbed since the recent Muslim Eid festival, crossing 6000 on May 19 for the first time and soaring to 8290 on Friday.

This raised the country’s total cases to 549,514. The health ministry also reported another 61 deaths on Friday, pushing the tally to 2552 – nearly 40 per cent recorded this month alone. Malaysia’s total cases and deaths have jumped nearly five-fold compared to all of last year.

Muhyiddin said in a statement that all business activities will be shut down June 1-14 in the first phase of the full lockdown, except for essential services.

If daily cases fall, some economic sectors will be allowed to reopen in the second phase, which is expected to last four weeks, he said. After that, the country will return to current controls, with all businesses allowed to operate but not social activities.

Muhyiddin vowed that the government would bolster the healthcare system to ensure it didn’t collapse and ramp up vaccinations.

This is the country’s second nationwide lockdown in over a year. A lockdown last year hit the economy badly, and the government resisted growing calls for another large-scale lockdown but caved in after the runaway increase in new cases.

Earlier on Friday, Senior Minister Ismail Sabri said many ethnic Malay Muslims violated COVID-19 safety rules that banned them from visiting each other during the Eid festival.

He said 24 Eid clusters had been detected with 850 confirmed cases. Many of the positive cases involved people who were asymptomatic, he said.

AP

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