Malaysia Announces Nationwide Lockdown as COVID-19 Cases Break Record Again

Hadi Azmi and S. Adie Zul
Kuala Lumpur
2021-05-28
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Malaysia Announces Nationwide Lockdown as COVID-19 Cases Break Record Again Malaysian Health Department workers unload the coffin of a person who died of COVID-19 at the Muslim burial ground in Gombak, Selangor state, May 22, 2021.
[S. Mahfuz/BenarNews]

The Malaysian government on Friday announced a near-total nationwide lockdown for two weeks starting on June 1, as new COVID-19 infections set a record for the fourth straight day.

Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin has come under increased pressure to reconvene parliament and shut down the country so new COVID-19 cases can be stemmed and elected lawmakers can collectively make decisions on public health.

On Friday, Muhyiddin did not say anything about restarting parliament – which has been suspended since January’s emergency declaration – but noted that a lockdown had become imperative as hospital capacity was strained nationwide.

“The decision [to impose a lockdown] was made after taking into account the current COVID-19 situation in Malaysia, with daily cases exceeding 8,000 and more than 70,000 active cases,” the Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement.

The Southeast Asian country reported 8,290 new infections on Friday, taking the cumulative caseload to nearly 500,000. With 61 virus-related deaths, pandemic fatalities rose to 2,552.

“With the latest rise in daily cases showing a drastically upward trend, hospital capacity across the country to treat COVID-19 patients is becoming limited,” Muhyiddin said.

Muhyiddin said the lockdown running through June 14 would be called Phase One and would affect economic and social sectors. In Phase Two, movement restrictions would be slightly relaxed, but only if the number of cases go down. In Phase Three, the nation would move back to even fewer restrictions.

‘Immobilized parliament’

Muhyiddin’s decision to impose a lockdown came a day after Azalina Othman Said, the parliament’s deputy speaker, said it was imperative the house reconvenes because the only way to stem snowballing COVID-19 infections is through collective decision making.

“Given that COVID-19 is here to stay for years to come, we cannot afford to be in a state of emergency forever,” Azalina said in an open letter she posted on social media.

“Do we remain the only country in the world that has immobilized parliament in times of crisis?”

Azalina wasn’t the only one who appeared upset.

A social media campaign with the hashtag #KerajaanGagal, which means “failed government,” has been trending on Twitter for weeks.

Malaysians have posted tweets blaming Muhyiddin’s unelected government for a rise in COVID-19 infections and blasting him for not imposing a lockdown.

“The government really are having a blast during COVID times. Declaring emergency to bend the rules for them, suspending parliament to operate and act without accountability with no care in the world knowing the people can’t say or do anything about it. #KerajaanGagal,” said one tweet.

Other critics said that the PM’s stated reason for imposing an emergency – to contain the pandemic – rang false when he said it and has since been proven untrue.

Following the criticism, Muhyiddin on Friday said the virus-related death toll and the presence of extremely infective COVID-19 variants had influenced his decision to impose the lockdown.

This was in contrast to last week when Muhyiddin said he would not shut down the country like he did in March 2020 because the economy could not bear another hit.

“Following the government’s decision to initiate a full closure of the economic sector and social activities, the Finance Ministry will draw up an assistance package for Malaysians and the economic sectors affected,” the statement from the prime minister’s office said.

Phased movement restrictions

In addition to the lockdown, Malaysia expects to increase COVID-19 vaccinations in the coming weeks with fresh supplies expected in June and July, Muhyiddin said.

Over the past month or so, some health experts had criticized what they said was the slow pace of vaccine rollouts.

So far, only 1.7 million Malaysians have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, according to government data.

The country aims to inoculate 80 percent of its 32.7 million population – that is, 26 million people.

The Federation of Private Medical Practitioners’ Associations of Malaysia said on Friday that swift inoculations along with movement restrictions were key to contain COVID-19.

“We need to have more centers for the population to get their vaccine including all government health clinics, hospitals and private health clinics,” said Steven K.W. Chow, president of the group.

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