Malaysia on Monday announced a two-week nationwide lockdown to slow the spread of novel coronavirus, after cases nearly tripled in three days, and as neighboring countries announced similar restrictions amid a sharp uptick in infections.
With 553 cases confirmed Monday, from 197 on Friday, Malaysia remained the Southeast Asian country with the highest number of infections. Sixty percent of those cases stemmed from an international Islamic gathering at a Kuala Lumpur mosque late last month, health officials said.
“The current situation requires drastic action,” Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin said in a late night broadcast, announcing “a blanket ban on mass movement and gatherings nationwide” to begin Wednesday and run through March 31.
No Malaysian or foreign travelers would be allowed to enter or leave the country, and all schools and places of worship would be shuttered, he said.
“We have seen that countries that took quite drastic measures to curb the spread of this outbreak, like China, showed a drastic decrease in the number of infections,” he said, asking Malaysians for calm and patience “in facing this test.”
In the Philippines, President Rodrigo Duterte widened a lockdown he had imposed in the capital, Manila, to the entire main island of Luzon, after COVID-19 left 12 dead and infected 140 others, according to the latest government figures.
“I am placing the entire mainland of Luzon under quarantine until April 12,” Duterte said.
“During this time our enemy is ourselves, and the disease that is COVID,” he said, in a recorded cabinet meeting. “We are in the fight of our lives. We are at war against a vicious and invisible enemy – one that can’t be seen by the naked eye. In this extraordinary war, we are all soldiers.”
In a speech later in the evening he urged Luzon residents to leave their houses only to buy food, medicine and other basics. “Only such establishments [that] provide these basic necessities and services will be open," he said.
Last week, Duterte placed Metro Manila with more than 12 million people on lockdown, prohibiting domestic travel in and out of the area to stem the spread of the novel coronavirus.
National police spokesman Police Brigadier General Bernard Banac said they would assign more than 70,000 personnel to implement the new directive on Luzon, which comprises about one-third of the country.
“The biggest challenge here would be the attitude of the people. It’s very important the people would help us maintain this community quarantine and that everybody will comply on the policy of social distancing and staying indoors,” Banac said.
Worldwide, more than 168,000 cases have been confirmed and around 6,610 people have died of the disease in nearly 90 countries, according to the latest figures from the World Health Organization (WHO).
According to the WHO, 80 percent of patients only experience “mild illness” and eventually recover. It added that some 14 percent experience severe illness while 5 percent were critically ill.
Thailand: Songkran festivities ‘postponed’
In Thailand, a coronavirus task force chaired by Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha recommended postponement of festivities marking the Thai New Year next month, and immediate closure of schools, sports events, bars and theaters nationwide.
The cabinet was expected to approve the measures Tuesday.
Officials reported 147 positive cases as of Monday, from 75 on Friday, including one death.
The restrictions were proposed after new infections were linked to a bar and two boxing stadiums in Bangkok and a cock-fighting den in Chachoengsao, a province about 83 km (51 miles) east of Bangkok.
Officials also announced postponement of Songkran next month, when Thais reunite with their families, make religious offerings and enjoy water fights, parties and parades.
“The committee carefully considered the matter and found that to have five days off in a row would allow increased traveling, and we fear Bangkok residents may unknowingly bring germs to their families … so we have postponed the holidays,” said Wissanu Krea-ngam, deputy prime minister for legal affairs, referring to the April 13 to 15 holiday and two weekend days before it.
Among COVID-19 patients being monitored were two Thais from the Deep South, among a group of 132 who attended the Islamic gathering at Sri Petaling Mosque in Kuala Lumper last month, officials said.
Indonesia: cabinet minister hospitalized
In Indonesia, President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo said he and other senior officials had been tested for infection after a cabinet minister was hospitalized with COVID-19.
Minister of Transportation Budi Karya Sumadi tested positive for the virus on Saturday after he attended a cabinet meeting on Wednesday.
Test results had yet to be announced, except for Vice President Ma'ruf Amin who reportedly tested negative.
Indonesia’s government has not considered a lockdown despite the spread of COVID-19, which saw 134 cases with five deaths announced Monday, from a total of 69 cases and 4 deaths Friday.
“Seventeen additional patients are positive, bringing the total number of infected to 134,” Health Ministry Disease Control and Prevention Director General Achmad Yurianto said Monday.
“Up to now, we have not considered planning a lockdown policy,” Jokowi said in a statement issued from the Presidential Palace in Bogor, West Java, on Monday.
On Sunday, he urged people nationwide to avoid crowds, and to work, study and pray at home.
But officials in the city of Jakarta and several regions decided to shut schools and tourist destinations in response to COVID-19. The National Monument (Monas) was among sites closed.
Bangladesh: young children infected
In Bangladesh, officials reported eight confirmed cases of the virus, up from three on Friday.
Among the patients were two children younger than 10, said Dr. Meerjady Sabrina Flora, director of Bangladesh’s Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control and Research. They are related to a man who recently returned from Europe and tested positive for the disease on Saturday, she said.
“Their infection is not severe. But we have been treating them at hospital to stop others from being infected,” she said.
The government on Monday announced it was closing down all educational institutes in Bangladesh until March 31 “as a precautionary measure.”
Foreign Minister A.K. Abdul Momen on Monday told BenarNews that leaders of seven countries that make up the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) held a video conference on Sunday to discuss ways to contain the spread of COVID-19 in the region.
Leaders of Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, the Maldives, Nepal and Sri Lanka participated.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi proposed a fund to fight health disasters and contributed U.S. $10 million, Momen said.
“Our Honorable Prime Minister [Sheikh Hasina] has backed forming the fund and proposed establishing an institute to research ways of fighting health disasters,” he said.
Hadi Azmi, Noah Lee and Nisha David in Kuala Lumpur; Jojo Rinoza, Eli Sepe and Jeoffrey Maitem in the Philippines; Ronna Nirmala and Arie Firdaus in Jakarta; Nontarat Phaicharoen in Bangkok; and Kamran Reza Chowdhury in Dhaka contributed to this report.