Malaysia Tightens Borders as COVID Cases Multiply

Nisha David, Tia Asmara and Wilawan Watcharasakwet
Kuala Lumpur, Jakarta and Bangkok
200305-MY-COVID-masks-1000.jpg Pedestrians wear protective masks as they cross a street in downtown Kuala Lumpur, March 5, 2020.

Malaysian and Indonesian authorities are tightening travel restrictions to try to slow the spread of the new coronavirus, in a week where cases in Malaysia shot up, Indonesia confirmed its first cases and Thailand its first death.

Malaysia has reported 26 new cases during a three-day stretch since Tuesday, bringing to 55 the number of people in the country infected with the mystery virus known as COVID-19.

On Thursday, the Malaysian government reported five new cases and convened a high-level meeting to determine how to respond to “the second wave of the COVID-19 outbreak,” Health Director-General Noor Hisham Abdullah said, referring to the surge in domestic cases.

The five new cases were part of a cluster of more than two dozen confirmed COVID cases linked to one patient, a 52-year-old Malaysian man who had visited China in mid-January, the Ministry of Health said.

After Thursday’s meeting, officials decided that several measures needed to be taken, including imposing restrictions on foreign travelers coming to Malaysia from specific regions of Italy, Iran and Japan that were affected by the virus, Noor said in a statement.

“The government … decided to put a temporary ban on visitors/travelers of any countries who had visited or been to [those regions] within 14 days before their arrival to Malaysia,” he said.

Noor also urged Malaysians to postpone plans to visit the affected regions: Lombardy, Veneto and Emilia-Romagna in Italy; Tehran, Qom and Gilan in Iran; and Hokkaido in Japan.

On Feb. 28, Malaysia announced a temporary ban on South Korean nationals traveling to the country, including a ban on all foreign nationals who had been in Daegu City or Cheongdo district during the previous 14 days, reports said.

More than 93,000 cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed and at least 3,000 deaths reported in 77 countries, although most cases have been concentrated in China, where the outbreak was detected, according to the latest available information from the World Health Organization (WHO).

Outside of China, three countries – South Korea, Iran and Italy – have been identified as hotspots for the virus, with thousands of cases detected and scores of deaths reported.

On Thursday in Jakarta, the government announced a similar travel ban on people coming from regions in Italy, Iran and South Korea hit hard by the virus.

Travelers coming from areas in those countries that lie outside the affected regions would be allowed to enter Indonesia, provided they showed certificates issued by health officials in their respective countries, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said.

“According to the latest WHO report, there is currently a significant increase of COVID-19 cases outside China, particularly in three countries: Iran, Italy, and the Republic of Korea (South Korea), and in the interest of public health, Indonesia has issues a temporary measure for incoming visitors from the three said countries,” the ministry said in a statement.

Indonesia, the most populous country in Southeast Asia, announced its first two cases of COVID-19 on March 2, weeks after neighboring countries had confirmed cases of the virus.

To guard against its spread, Indonesia has evacuated hundreds of its citizens from cruise ships located abroad and placed them in quarantine on an island off Java.

In Bangkok, Thai authorities confirmed four new cases on Thursday, bringing the nationwide total to 47 cases, including an infected person who died on Sunday. The new cases include two people had traveled in Italy and two others who had visited Iran, the Thai Department of Disease Control said.

Suwannachai Wattanayingcharoenchai, the head of the department, said health authorities also were arranging facilities to quarantine thousands of undocumented Thai workers who were expected to be heading home from South Korea.

Meanwhile in Bangladesh, government officials have yet to confirm any cases of the virus on home soil, but at least seven Bangladeshi citizens have been diagnosed with COVID-19 in Singapore, the United Arab Emirates and Italy.

And in the Philippines, which was the first country outside China to record a death on its territory from the virus, only three cases have been confirmed.

Earlier in the week, Philippine health officials said that a total of 86 cases had been detected among Filipinos working abroad, including 80 in Japan. Last week, Manila evacuated back home hundreds of citizens who were on a cruise ship docked in Yokohama, many of whom worked as members of the crew.


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