Malaysian PM Announces Strict COVID-19 Curbs as His Office Denies Cancer Rumors

Hadi Azmi
Kuala Lumpur
2021-01-11
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Malaysian PM Announces Strict COVID-19 Curbs as His Office Denies Cancer Rumors Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin surveys flood-hit areas in Johor state from a helicopter, Jan. 7, 2021.
[Photo courtesy of the Prime Minister’s Office]

The Malaysian Prime Minister’s Office on Monday denied speculation that he was being treated for cancer, as Muhyiddin Yassin announced strict movement restrictions nationwide, saying a surge in coronavirus cases had pushed the healthcare system to “a breaking point.”

Muhyiddin’s office sought to quash rumors about the health of the 73-year-old leader, amid trouble in his ruling coalition after a lawmaker from its largest party withdrew support for the government during the weekend.

“The rumor that said the Prime Minister has to undergo cancer treatment is untrue and with malice. The Prime Minister has been declared to be free from cancer by the health experts who treated him before,” his office said in a statement.

Muhyiddin, an unelected prime minister who came to power last March, was diagnosed with early-stage pancreatic cancer and hospitalized during July and August 2018. Doctors had said that surgery to remove the cancerous growth was successful.

His office also rejected talk that Muhyiddin was set to appoint a deputy prime minister.

“Rumors that there will be a Deputy Prime Minister appointed are also not true,” the office said.

The PM has been seen going about his work in three of the last five days in regular live telecasts from his office.

On Monday, he went on national television to announce strict measures aimed at stemming the rise in new COVID-19 cases.

Stringent measures were necessary because the country, at the current rate of infections, was heading towards 8,000 new coronavirus cases daily by the end of May, Muhyiddin said.

“Our healthcare system is at breaking point, the situation today is indeed very alarming. … As I have said before, unprecedented situations call for unprecedented measures,” he said.

‘The worst is yet to come’

Malaysia would impose strict movement restrictions – called a Movement Control Order – for two weeks, starting on Wednesday, with five states and the capital under complete lockdown, Muhyiddin announced.

While interstate travel will not be allowed, businesses in five essential economic sectors can stay open, although at a reduced capacity, the PM said.

“This order involves … a Movement Control Order on six states namely Penang, Selangor, the Federal Territories – which includes Kuala Lumpur, Putrajaya and Labuan – Melaka, Johor and Sabah,” he said.

MCO refers to a complete lockdown where inter-district travel, religious activities, restaurant dining and school attendance won’t be allowed. No employees, except those in the sectors deemed essential – such as manufacturing, construction, and plantations – will be allowed to go to work.

The states of Pahang, Perak, Negeri Sembilan, Kedah, Terengganu and Kelantan would see a Conditional Movement Control Order during the next two weeks, Muhyiddin said. That means these states won’t be fully locked down, but they will see restrictions on interstate travel, religious activities and social gatherings.

Muhyiddin’s lockdown order came a day after Malaysia’s health director general warned that the “worst is yet to come,” noting the high number of coronavirus-related deaths recorded just nine days into 2021.

Meanwhile, the government on Monday announced that it had signed a deal with pharmaceutical giant Pfizer to procure 12.2 million additional doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine.

Malaysia will now get 25 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine, which will inoculate 39 percent of the population through 2021, officials said.

Coalition woes

As the government struggles to contain the coronavirus pandemic, Muhyiddin’s ruling coalition is in fresh trouble after parliamentarian Jazlan Yaakub, with the United Malays National Organization (UMNO), the largest party in the alliance, announced that he was withdrawing his support for it.

UMNO President Ahmad Zahid Hamidi had already threatened to push for snap polls before the end of March 2021, despite some senior party leaders saying elections during a pandemic was a bad idea.

Yaakub said the surge in coronavirus cases was the government’s fault and one reason why he would no longer back it.

“I, as the Member of Parliament for Machang, hereby announce the withdrawal of my support for the Government of the National Alliance and YAB Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin as Prime Minister,” Yaakub said via Twitter on Saturday.

“[T]he government has failed, in planning and action, to eradicate COVID-19,” he said in a Facebook post on Monday.

In Malaysia, the government needs to have the support of a majority of lawmakers.

While Yaakub’s withdrawal of support leaves Muhyiddin’s government with the support of just half the lawmakers, the coalition isn’t in trouble yet, Azmi Hassan, a political analyst, told BenarNews.

“The fact is, the numbers of those who support Muhyiddin Yassin has at this juncture is not known and validated,” Azmi said, referring to how some of those parliamentarians who had not supported Muhyiddin earlier on might now support him.

“That is why regardless of one, two, or 10 members of parliament withdrawing their support for the prime minister, the real number of support is unknown. Because there may also be those who were previously against him but now have swung in his support.”

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