KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia on Wednesday extended its two-week restriction of movement order until April 14 as the number of coronavirus cases spiralled to nearly 1,800.
In a televised address to the nation on Wednesday, Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin said that the decision had been taken for people to make “the necessary preparations” for the more extended period of the partial lockdown.
“Current trends show that new cases of COVID-19 are still happening. This trend is expected to continue for some time before new cases begin to decline,” the 72-year-old premier said, adding that the development required the government to continue with the Movement Control Order (MCO).
Since the sudden spike in coronavirus infections in early March, 1,796 cases and 17 deaths were reported as of Wednesday, with the number of positive cases doubling in just one week.
Muhyiddin, quoting details shared by the National Security Council, said that positive cases for the virus “are expected to increase if nothing is done to control the spread of the epidemic.”
At present, the Malaysian authorities’ strategy is to “find, screen, isolate and treat COVID-19 patients,” as well as “increase the capacity to conduct screening tests on a larger scale.”
“We cannot be satisfied with the steps we are taking right now until we have successfully zeroed-in on new cases,” he said, adding that the government will be conducting mass coronavirus testing in high-risk areas, especially in Kuala Lumpur’s “red zones,” which the Health Ministry said has more than 40 COVID-19 cases.
“Just be mentally and physically prepared to stay at home for a reasonably longer period,” the Malaysian leader advised, urging people to stay put until the MCO was lifted.
“I know you feel burdened, but I don’t have a choice. I have to extend the movement control order for your safety,” he said.
A report by JP Morgan released on Tuesday said that the number of cases “will peak to about 6,300 in mid-April,” with an extension of the partial lockdown expected to leave a massive dent on the economy and impact daily wage workers, including those in the rural areas, migrant workers and refugees.
To limit the impact of the crisis, Muhyiddin said that the government would release a new economic stimulus package in a couple of days while assuring the public that “no one will be left behind.”
And experts remained optimistic, saying that it was a step in the right direction.
Professor James Chin, director of the Asia Institute at Tasmania University, told Arab News that Malaysia is on the right track in terms of its mitigation plan, although adding that the MCO could have been in place earlier.
“The lockdown should have begun two weeks ago. Our big problem now is with the three million undocumented migrants and refugees — if these high-risk group turns out to be positive, do they have enough beds at the Intensive Care Unit (ICU)?” Chin said.
Dr. Khor Swee Kheng, a Malaysian physician and public health specialist, told Arab News that he welcomed the government’s measures to expand the testing measures, but warned that the health-care system might be stretched.
“With additional measures by the Health Ministry to increase the production of kits, better distribution across Malaysia, reduce wastage of unnecessary testing and to test undocumented migrants for free, we should be able to test 16,000 per day before April comes,” Dr. Khor said, adding that Malaysia was “ahead of the curve in most ways, compared to Europe, the US and ASEAN.”
“Our testing rates are among the highest in the world, the mortality rates among the lowest and our health system have not been as tested as that of Italy or Iran. However, the triple measures of social distancing, mass testing and contact tracing must be maintained so that our health system does not get fatigued,” he said.
Meanwhile, Adip Zalkapli, director at BowerGroupAsia, applauded the government’s actions but warned that Malaysia’s future success in mitigating the virus remained uncertain.
“We are in uncharted waters now. The health service and security forces are managing and responding to the outbreak well. Hopefully, in the coming days or weeks, we will hear from the government a robust economic recovery plan to help Malaysia rebound quickly from this crisis,” he said.