Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin announced a “wide-scale restart” of the nation’s economy on Monday, reopening many businesses in parts of the country for the first time since it imposed a partial lockdown on March 18, as his government said all foreign workers will be required to take coronavirus tests.
Muhyiddin decided to partially lift movement curbs as he sought to revive the virus-battered economy despite a split in public opinion on the reopening of economic activities.
“Today, the 4th of May, Malaysia has embarked on … a wide-scale restart of the national economy in a controlled and orderly manner,” Muhyiddin told a video-conference of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), a forum of 120 developing-world states that are not formally aligned with any major power bloc.
“Although most of our economic sectors have reopened today, those involving close human contact and mass gatherings are still prohibited,” he said.
Health authorities reported no new fatalities on Monday but confirmed 55 new COVID-19 infections, taking the nation’s cumulative cases to 6,353, with total deaths at 105.
Muhyiddin emphasized that his government had not completely lifted its so-called movement control order imposed to stem the spread of the pandemic. “It is important to note that the order is very much still in place until May 12,” he said.
While the federal government had given a green light on the resumption of various businesses and social activities, nine of the country's 13 states, including the richest state, Selangor, were more cautious, restricting the list of businesses that can operate.
Under the loosened curbs, most businesses are allowed to re-open, except for barber shops, hair salons, and entertainment-related businesses such as movie theaters and karaoke centers.
Restaurant dine-in is now permitted, but businesses that re-open are required to observe tight restrictions, such as social distancing and personal hygiene, officials said.
Meanwhile, senior Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob told reporters on Monday that compulsory COVID-19 tests would be carried out on all migrant workers in the country.
Ismail Sabri said the government decided to take the move following the detection of a cluster of coronavirus infections among migrant workers at a construction site in Ampang, an area on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur. The site has since been ordered shut down, he said.
He said employers in all sectors – construction, manufacturing and services, such as restaurants – will pay for the tests, which will start in the capital. He warned that any establishment or business with a confirmed coronavirus case would be immediately shut down.
The government took the move as neighboring Singapore confirmed 573 new coronavirus infections on Monday, bringing the city-state’s tally to 18,778, with health authorities saying about 85 percent of those cases originated in overcrowded dormitories housing foreign workers.
Singapore has more confirmed coronavirus infections than any other Southeast Asian country.
Malaysia rounds up undocumented migrants
Malaysia launched law-enforcement operations to screen and arrest undocumented migrants starting Friday, prompting criticisms from the international and local human right groups.
Malaysia has a foreign worker population of about 3 million, of whom 1.2 million are “irregular” or lacking documents, according to government figures cited by the World Bank. “Unofficial data suggests as many as 4 million irregular foreign workers,” it said.
Authorities rounded up more than 3,000 foreigners and arrested 586 undocumented migrants, immigration officials said Saturday, although operations continued after that announcement.
“For the critics, I hope they understand that Malaysia is a sovereign country and has its own law to safeguard its country,” Ismail Sabri said.
Confirmed coronavirus “hotspot” areas in the capital, including a wholesale market with many migrant workers, had been recently locked down, police said.
Muhyiddin, who was sworn in as premier after a new government was formed in March, decided to partially lift the movement curbs as he considered the pandemic’s damaging effect to the nation’s economy.
Total losses from weeks of economic inactivity since the imposition of movement curbs were estimated at 63 billion ringgit (U.S. $14.6 billion), Muhyiddin told reporters last Friday.
Malaysia’s exports also fell 4.7 percent from a year earlier in March amid a global slowdown due to the coronavirus pandemic, Reuters reported on Monday, citing government data.
Shipments of manufactured goods, which accounted for 84.4 percent of March’s total exports, fell 4.5 percent on-year due to lower demand for electrical and electronic goods, among other products, the report said.
Meanwhile, Mohamed Azmin Ali, the international trade and industry minister, warned that legal action might be taken against state governments who refuse to implement the prime minister’s latest directives.
“Should the state governments refuse to cooperate … [they] may face the possibility of legal action from various parties, particularly industrial players,” he said.