Two Southeast Asian countries are reporting coronavirus infections in the thousands, after Thailand crossed the 1,000 mark and Malaysia surpassed 2,000 on Thursday.
Elsewhere, the Indonesian president called on G20 member-states to lead efforts to combat COVID-19, while in Bangladesh, the most powerful industry group representing owners of garment factories agreed to close most of the plants during a two-week period.
The government has declared the next two weeks as a special national holiday during a countrywide shutdown that began Thursday, but is urging Bangladeshis to stay at home and avoid large gatherings amid the public health crisis stemming from the viral outbreak.
In Malaysia, members of the royal staff were among those affected by the coronavirus, leading the king and queen to quarantine for 14 days, officials said.
“The National Palace would like to inform that seven of its staff have been tested positive for COVID19. They are currently being treated at the Kuala Lumpur Hospital and health authorities are now working on tracing the cause of infection,” the palace said in a statement.
COVID-19 tests on the king, Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah, and the queen, Tunku Azizah Aminah Maimunah, were negative, according to the palace.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin and members of his cabinet decided they would donate two months of their salaries to a national COVID-19 relief fund.
“This is to show the government’s commitment in assisting those who truly are affected by the virus,” the prime minister’s office said in a statement.
The government would also institute a two-week lockdown in two locations in Johor, beginning Friday, after the state recorded 83 positive coronavirus cases, Malaysian Defense Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob announced.
The lockdown is to end on April 9 and will involve 3,570 people from 650 families. No one will be allowed to enter or leave the two areas and all businesses must be closed.
“During the lockdown, the welfare department will supply enough basic necessities to all households. The authorities will set up a medical base in the two areas and police and the military will be on duty to ensure the order is followed,” Ismail said.
On Thursday, Malaysia saw its total number of COVID-19 cases jump by 235 to 2,031 and the death toll increase by four to 23 from the previous day, according to government figures.
Three of those who died had attended the Tablighi Jamaat missionary movement mass gathering at a mosque outside of Kuala Lumpur in late February. The gathering has been linked to hundreds of infections in Malaysia and other countries including Indonesia, the Philippines, Singapore, Brunei, Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam, according to reports.
Worldwide, more than 23,500 people have died and at least 521,000 have been infected, according to the latest data compiled by disease experts at Johns Hopkins University in the United States.
Thailand begins state of emergency
The Thai government implemented similar movement and travel restrictions on Thursday, the first day of the nation’s state of emergency decreed by the prime minister. Authorities sealed off five Tambon (village clusters) in the Deep South’s Narathiwat province, which borders Malaysia, because six people had tested positive for the coronavirus.
“I don’t feel discomfort because we have been under an emergency decree for over 15 years,” Narathiwat resident Nithima Lama told BenarNews. “But we need to stay at home at 8 p.m. and we will see how it’s going tomorrow.”
The predominantly Muslim Deep South, which has seen years of violence from a separatist insurgency, reported at least 99 people infected.
The overall number of COVID-19 cases increased by 111 since Wednesday to reach 1,045, while the death toll remained at four.
As the state of emergency began, the government set up 400 checkpoints across the nation to screen for COVID-19.
“When you get to a checkpoint please roll down the window and officers will if you are complying with safety advisories such as having a mask on. ... If they ask you to get out of your car for ease of inspection, please cooperate,” said Lt. Gen. Piya Uthayo, national police bureau spokesman.
Jokowi calls for G20 leadership
After bidding farewell to his mother at her funeral on Thursday, Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo traveled to the presidential palace in Bogor, West Java, to participate in a G20 video conference on dealing with COVID-19.
Jokowi called for leaders of 19 countries and the European Union, which are members of the G20 along with Indonesia, to lead efforts to combat the pandemic.
“For this reason, the G20 must actively lead efforts to find anti-virus and COVID-19 drugs, obviously with the WHO [World Health Organization],” Jokowi said in a statement posted on the official presidential site.
“We must prevent a global economic recession through coordinated fiscal and monetary policies, and expand and strengthen social safety nets, especially for small- and medium-sized enterprises,” he said.
G20 members committed to contribute $5 trillion to the global economy to combat the COVID19 crisis, according to a statement released after the teleconference.
“Combatting this pandemic calls for a transparent, robust, coordinated, large-scale and science-based global response in the spirit of solidarity,” the G20 said.
On Thursday, Indonesia saw its COVID-19 cases increase by 103 to 893, and deaths increase by 20 to 78. Three new provinces – West Sumatra, Aceh, and Central Sulawesi – reported their first confirmed cases, meaning the virus has spread to 27 of the country’s 34 provinces, according to the Health Ministry.
Bangladesh shuts down
Dhaka was far less crowded on Thursday, the first day of a countrywide shutdown, as many highways were closed and mass transportation was limited. Bangladesh Highway Police said some trucks hauling supplies were allowed on the road.
While thousands left the city in the days leading up to the holiday, those who stayed in Dhaka appeared to be responding to the government’s call to stay in their homes as markets had few shoppers.
Meanwhile, the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) announced it would close its factories because of concerns around COVID-19.
Rubana Huq, the association’s chief, sent a directive on Thursday to factory owners recommending they cease operations to slow spread of coronavirus. It is to run through April 4.
The directive came a day after Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina delivered a nationally televised address pledging a 50 billion taka (U.S. $590 million) stimulus package for the export-oriented businesses to pay workers’ wages.
The ready-made garment industry, the country’s top earner from foreign exports, has been reeling economically during the COVID-19 crisis, with billions of dollars in contract orders cancelled by European and American buyers.
“The companies producing personal protective equipment (PPE) can keep their factories open,” Huq said in her message to owners, while reminding owners they must ensure maximum safety and hygiene.
The move drew support from a labor leader.
“Considering the current situation, it’s a positive decision to close the factories,” Mahbubur Rahman Ismail, coordinator of the labor group Garment Sramik Odhikar Andolan, told BenarNews.
Despite the support, he expressed concern that Huq’s message did not address workers’ wages.
Noah Lee and Nisha David in Kuala Lumpur, Wilawan Watcharasakwet and Mariyam Ahmad in Bangkok and Pattani, Thailand, and Jesmin Papri in Dhaka contributed to this report.