Calls for strict lockdown in Malaysia as COVID-19 cases hit record highs

Calls for strict lockdown in Malaysia as COVID-19 cases hit record highs
A medical worker wearing a protective suit conducts a test at a free Covid-19 coronavirus testing site in Shah Alam, on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur, on May 27, 2021. (AFP)
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Updated 27 May 2021

Calls for strict lockdown in Malaysia as COVID-19 cases hit record highs

Calls for strict lockdown in Malaysia as COVID-19 cases hit record highs
  • With only 4.3 percent of the population vaccinated, public health experts say tougher action is needed to bring the outbreak under control
  • The government has tightened restrictions on movement and businesses but stopped short of ordering a complete lockdown

KUALA LUMPUR: Public health experts in Malaysia are calling for a strict lockdown as the nation continues to face a surge in coronavirus cases.

On Thursday, authorities reported 7,857 new confirmed cases of COVID-19. It was the third consecutive day on which the number of infections in the country has hit a record high.

The total number of cases in Malaysia, which has a population of nearly 33 million, now stands at more than 541,200, and nearly 2,500 people have died of conditions related to COVID-19. It is the third worst-hit country in Southeast Asia, after Indonesia and the Philippines.

With increasing numbers of new cases reported since April, the government has tightened precautionary measures several times — including restrictions on interstate travel and business operating hours, and limiting staffing levels in offices to 40 percent of capacity — but so far has stopped short of ordering a complete lockdown.

“The current tightened MCO (movement control order) measures are not sufficient to halt the rise (in cases),” public-health expert Lim Chee Han, from international research and advocacy organization the Third World Network, told Arab News.

“For any effective control measures to significantly and rapidly cool down the pandemic, the authority has to ensure the number of people’s physical interactions and contacts in the community can be reduced to the minimum.”

He added that the government must take more decisive action, especially in districts with the highest rates of infection. Merely shortening business hours, he said, could cause more harm than good as it means more people gathering in public places such as supermarkets at the same time.

“People should be protected from highly probable exposure to infection, and subsequently getting sick and (potentially) dying from COVID-19, as this would help relieve the burden and stress on local public healthcare, too,” he added.

Malaysia announced on Thursday that it has procured an additional 12.8 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine to ramp up its immunization program. However Lim said that at this stage vaccinations alone might not be enough to bring the pandemic under control in the country.

“For the current new wave of the pandemic, it may be too late to wait for the vaccination effect to keep things in control,” he said.

“The government should consider applying a ‘ring vaccination’ strategy to communities where the caseload is high, when they have more supplies: Vaccinate the close contacts of confirmed patients as well as their immediate circle of family members and friends in the community, so that this forms a ‘firewall’ to contain the spread.

“The authorities should also consider moving the vaccination campaign directly into the community, saving residents the trouble of registering and attending appointments elsewhere later.”

Malaysia launched its immunization campaign in late February but many people have complained about troublesome registration procedures. So far only 4.3 percent of the population has been vaccinated.


Philippines activates border checkpoints in Metro Manila ahead of lockdown

Philippines activates border checkpoints in Metro Manila ahead of lockdown
Updated 59 min 54 sec ago

Philippines activates border checkpoints in Metro Manila ahead of lockdown

Philippines activates border checkpoints in Metro Manila ahead of lockdown
  • Fortnight of curbs ‘critical’ to limit spread of delta variant, official says

MANILA: The Philippines government on Sunday began enforcing quarantine control points (QCP) along the borders of the National Capital Region (NCR) to curb the spread of the delta variant of the coronavirus, ahead of a strict lockdown later this week.

“At the moment, the QCPs are at the borders of Bulacan, Rizal, Laguna and Cavite with adjoining provinces, but once we move to ECQ (enhanced community quarantine) starting Aug. 6, checkpoints will now be located inside Metro Manila,” Interior Secretary Eduardo Ano said in a statement.

The two-week ECQ will be imposed in Metropolitan Manila, the nation’s capital region with more than 13 million people, from Aug. 6 to 20.

On Sunday, the Department of Health reported 8,735 new COVID-19 infections, taking the total tally to 1,597,689 cases.

Of the total, 94.3 percent have recovered, while the number of active cases stood at 4 percent, or 63,646, a majority with mild or no symptoms.

There were 127 new deaths reported, taking the country’s death toll to 28,016 since the start of the pandemic.

As of Thursday, 216 delta variant cases had been detected in the Philippines.

Ano said that the QCPs, manned by the Philippine National Police (PNP), the Armed Forces of the Philippines, the Philippine Coast Guard and the Bureau of Fire Protection, will be located along the borders of Bulacan, Rizal, Laguna and Cavite, and will “ensure that only authorized persons outside of residence are allowed to pass."

These include health and emergency frontline service workers and uniformed personnel, government officials and employees on official travel, those involved in fully authorized relief and humanitarian assistance efforts, those traveling for medical or humanitarian reasons, persons going to and from airports, anyone crossing zones for work in permitted industries and public utility vehicle operators.

Those found to be unauthorized people outside of residence will not be allowed to pass and will be asked to return to their homes, Ano said, adding that from Aug. 1 to 5, “no QCPs will be put up inside the NCR Plus (Metro Manila plus Bulacan, Rizal, Laguna and Cavite).

“The PNP, nonetheless, may still set up regular checkpoints inside the NCR Plus bubble to implement curfew hours, enforce minimum health standards and for general law enforcement,” he said.

In an earlier radio interview, Ano said that during the interim period between Friday’s announcement of Metro Manila’s return to a hard lockdown, the government “has to implement additional heightened restrictions, to include inter-zonal movement.

“With the announcement of the ECQ, it is expected that some people would be rushing to leave Metro Manila. With that, there is a high risk that people who may already be infected with the delta variant could spread the virus to other areas,” he added.

He stressed that the implementation of strict border controls was “critical” to stop the spread of the delta variant.

“Among the objectives of the ECQ is to shut down the mobility of people to cut the chain of transmission of the delta variant and to incubate the virus, so that it will die naturally,” Ano said.

He added that another purpose is to allow the government to ramp up vaccination measures against COVID-19, and allow for a more aggressive and intensive contact tracing to identify and isolate infected individuals.

“It is important for the government to act now because once there is a surge in delta variant cases in the country, it will be explosive and exponential, and it will not be easy to reverse,” he said.

The official cited other countries in the region that also had resorted to imposing hard lockdowns.

“For example, in Indonesia, they have 21,000 infections per day, and 1,700 are dying every day. In India, the rate was 44,000 cases per day, and when they ramped up their vaccination program, the recorded deaths went down to at least 500 to 600 per day. But Malaysia and Thailand, they are at about 16,000 infections per day, and until now their cases continued to surge,” Ano said.

“In the UK and the US, they still have a high rate of infection with 27,000 new cases a day, but the number of people dying has gone down because they have already vaccinated a large number of their population. It shows that vaccination slows down the transmission of the delta variant and also helps prevent death among patients,” he added.

Meanwhile, Ano reminded the PNP to allow the “unimpeded movement of cargo and delivery vehicles across all quarantine control points, because of the importance to the economy.”

PNP chief Guillermo Eleazar assured the public that human rights “would be respected at border control points in the area.”

At the same time, he said that the PNP’s Medical Reserve Force (MRF) was placed on standby to assist in the vaccination process during the enforcement of the ECQ in the capital region.

“The MRF is ready to help as additional manpower in the vaccination process after the Metro Manila Council’s pronouncement that it is targeting 250,000 individuals for incoluation each day during the two-week ECQ,” Eleazar said in a statement.

He also tasked concerned police commanders to coordinate with local government officials, especially village executives, to discuss the vaccination process during the ECQ.


Malaysian PM postpones parliament as calls for his resignation grow

Hundreds of Malaysians took to the streets to protest against the mismanagement of the COVID-19 outbreak by Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin. (Reuters/File Photo)
Hundreds of Malaysians took to the streets to protest against the mismanagement of the COVID-19 outbreak by Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin. (Reuters/File Photo)
Updated 01 August 2021

Malaysian PM postpones parliament as calls for his resignation grow

Hundreds of Malaysians took to the streets to protest against the mismanagement of the COVID-19 outbreak by Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin. (Reuters/File Photo)
  • More than 500 Malaysians protested against government’s handling of COVID-19 crisis on Saturday amid a rise in infections 

KUALA LUMPUR: Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin has deferred a key parliamentary session set for Monday amid intense pressure to step down from office.

This comes a day after hundreds of Malaysians took to the streets to protest against his mismanagement of the COVID-19 outbreak, which has worsened since January.

More than 500 black-clad Malaysians participated in the “Keluar dan #LAWAN” protest in Kuala Lumpur on Saturday, defying a ban on mass gatherings under COVID-19 curbs, with experts saying that Muhyiddin was “fighting for his political life.”

“This guy (Muhyiddin) is basically fighting for his political life, and we will get a clearer picture of his fate in the coming week, but he does have one advantage — the prime minister’s office,” said Prof. James Chin, Tasmania University professor of Asian Studies and inaugural director of the Asia Institute.

He told Arab News that while the protests were initially meant to “express disdain against the government and its incompetence in dealing with the pandemic,” new developments in parliament “had renewed the drive.”

Muhyiddin’s decision to postpone parliament, citing COVID-19 infections among staff, allows him to avoid a no-confidence vote amid growing calls to resign.

A notification issued to lawmakers on Saturday said that the session would be held “at a later date” after 11 staff and others tested positive on Thursday.

Parliament reopened last Monday following a months-long suspension during a COVID-19-related state of emergency that ends on Sunday.

The state of emergency allowed Muhyiddin to rule by ordinance without legislative approval until Aug. 1, but it has fueled public anger after a significant spike in infections since January.

On Sunday, Malaysia reported 17,150 new cases while the total number of infections since the pandemic rose to 1.1 million, with more than 8,800 deaths. Nearly 20 percent of the population has been fully vaccinated.

This is the third time that parliament has been suspended due to the coronavirus.

It was shut down for several months after Muhyiddin assumed office in March 2020 and since January this year, after the king approved the premier’s plan to impose a state of emergency to curb the COVID-19 outbreak.

However, Malaysia’s political crisis deepened on Thursday after its monarch Sultan Abdullah Ahmad Shah rebuked Law Minister Takiyuddin Hassan over remarks that emergency laws had been revoked as of July 21, ahead of the Aug 1 expiration, “which make the parliamentary debate on the matter unnecessary.”

Sultan Abdullah said that he had yet to give his consent on the cancelation of laws imposed without legislative approvals throughout Malaysia’s seven-month emergency but told the government to debate them in Parliament — which may lead to a vote that could test the prime minister’s majority.

The palace, in a statement, said the rushed move to cancel the laws and the conflicting announcement “undermines the functions and powers of His Majesty as the reigning Head of State.”

There was no immediate comment from the government on Sunday.

However, the opposition, which has filed a no-confidence motion against PM Muhyiddin, said that the delay in convening parliament was an “excuse” for him to stay in power.

“Many parties feel it’s not because of COVID-19. This political crisis must be resolved immediately. This constitutional crisis must be addressed,” Ahmad Maslan, a lawmaker in the biggest party in Muhyiddin’s alliance that has backed calls for the premier to quit, said in a Twitter post.

The two-hour protest on Saturday, organized by the Sekretariat Solidariti Rakyat (SSR), saw Malaysians occupy the main street opposite the historical Merdeka Square and follows a similar demonstration outside the parliament building in April.

“It was an attack on the government for their failure in dealing with the pandemic, but now the prime minister has been seen as being disloyal to the king,” Chin said.

Police told local media on Sunday that protesters would be called in for questioning as they had violated a ban on gatherings.

Federal Police Chief Acryl Sani Abdullah Sani said that probes were launched under Act 342, or The Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases Act 1988.

“We have identified 29 individuals who will be called in to assist with investigations, and more will be identified from videos and photos that have been uploaded,” Acryl said.

Others worry that the demonstrations could trigger a spike in infections.

“Although the protesters had taken efforts to enforce safety procedures, risks were still present,” Dr. Lim Chee Han, a senior researcher from Third World Network and public health expert, told Arab News.

He added that “even if 95 percent of the protesters complied with safe practices, there was a 5 percent risk of those who could possibly spread the virus.”

“Of course, whenever there are people grouping in great numbers that increases the risk of disease transmission, given right now the local transmission is still at the height, so it cannot rule out any spread of the virus in the transmission chain,” Lim said.


UK joins Israel saying Iran attacked tanker; Tehran continues to deny involvement

Calling it a “unlawful and callous attack,” British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said his country and its allies planned a coordinated response over the strike on the tanker. (AFP/File Photo)
Calling it a “unlawful and callous attack,” British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said his country and its allies planned a coordinated response over the strike on the tanker. (AFP/File Photo)
Updated 01 August 2021

UK joins Israel saying Iran attacked tanker; Tehran continues to deny involvement

Calling it a “unlawful and callous attack,” British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said his country and its allies planned a coordinated response over the strike on the tanker. (AFP/File Photo)
  • The blast killed two crew members, one British and another from Romania
  • FM Raab said it was “highly likely” Iran attacked the tanker with one or more drones

LONDON: The UK joined Israel on Sunday in alleging Iran carried out a fatal drone strike on an oil tanker off the coast of Oman in the Arabian Sea, putting further pressure on Tehran as it denied being involved in the assault.

Calling it a “unlawful and callous attack,” British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said his country and its allies planned a coordinated response over the strike Thursday night on the oil tanker Mercer Street. It marked the first-known fatal attack after years of assaults on commercial shipping in the region linked to tensions with Iran over its tattered nuclear deal.

While no one has claimed responsibility for the attack, Iran and its militia allies have used so-called “suicide” drones in attacks previously, which crash into targets and detonate their explosive payloads. However, Israel, the UK and the responding US Navy have yet to show physical evidence from the strike or offer intelligence information on why they blame Tehran.

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett went further than Raab in remarks Sunday at a Cabinet meeting, making a point to stare directly into the camera and slowly warn: “We know, at any rate, know how to convey the message to Iran in our own way.”

READ MORE

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said Sunday Israel had “evidence” Iran was behind the deadly tanker attack off Oman despite its denials, and warned his country could “send a message” in retaliation. More here.

The drone attack blasted a hole through the top of the oil tanker’s bridge, where the captain and crew command the vessel, a US official said. The official spoke on condition of anonymity as an investigation into the attack still was ongoing. The blast killed two crew members from the United Kingdom and Romania.

The Navy said the American nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan and the guided missile destroyer USS Mitscher escorted the Mercer Street as it headed to a safe port. On Sunday, satellite-tracking information from MarineTraffic.com showed the tanker stopped off the coast of Fujairah in the UAE.

In his statement, Raab said it was “highly likely” Iran attacked the tanker with one or more drones.

“We believe this attack was deliberate, targeted and a clear violation of international law by Iran,” he said. “Iran must end such attacks, and vessels must be allowed to navigate freely in accordance with international law.”

From Jerusalem, Bennett offered condolences to both the United Kingdom and Romania for the killing of their citizens. He said Israeli intelligence had evidence linking Iran to the attack, but did not offer it.

“Iran is the one who carried out the attack against the ship,” he said. “Iran’s aggressive behavior is dangerous not only for Israel, but harms global interests in the freedom of navigation and international trade.”

Earlier, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh described the allegation Iran carried out the attack as “baseless.”

“It’s not the first time that the Zionist regime occupying Jerusalem has made such empty accusations against the Islamic Republic of Iran,” Khatibzadeh said. “Wherever this regime has gone, it has taken instability, terror and violence with it.”

He added: “Whoever sows the wind shall reap the whirlwind.”

Other Israel-linked ships have been targeted in recent months as well amid a shadow war between the two nations, with Israeli officials blaming the Islamic Republic for the assaults. Shipping in the region began being targeted in the summer of 2019, about a year after then-President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew America from Iran’s nuclear deal with world powers.

The Mercer Street, owned by Japan’s Taihei Kaiun Co., is managed by London-based Zodiac Maritime, part of Israeli billionaire Eyal Ofer’s Zodiac Group. In early July, the Liberian-flagged container ship CSAV Tyndall, once tied to Zodiac Maritime, suffered an unexplained explosion on board while in the northern Indian Ocean, according to the US Maritime Administration.

The attack marks the first major confrontation with Iran for Bennett, who took over as premier in June after a coalition deal unseated Israel’s long-serving Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Netanyahu is suspected of launching a series of attacks targeting Iran, including explosions at the country’s main enrichment site and the killing of a prominent military nuclear scientist.

However, Bennett as well has made hawkish comments in the past about needing to attack “the head of the octopus” in Tehran as opposed to Iran’s regional militias like Hezbollah in Lebanon. The attack on the Mercer Street marks the first during his time as prime minister and analysts suggest he could seek a major attack in retaliation.

“Israel may wish to deliver a resounding blow; that’s the spirit of political sources’ comments in Jerusalem,” wrote Amos Harel, a longtime military analyst for the Israeli newspaper Haaretz. “This blow will be aimed at ending things without a tit-for-tat that could escalate. But as usual, events also depend on the other side.”


Arab Parliament speaker begins first visit to Pakistan to boost ties

Arab Parliament speaker begins first visit to Pakistan to boost ties
Updated 01 August 2021

Arab Parliament speaker begins first visit to Pakistan to boost ties

Arab Parliament speaker begins first visit to Pakistan to boost ties
  • Several agreements expected to be signed
  • Visit first of its kind, says parliament in tweet

ISLAMABAD: Arab Parliament Speaker Adel Abdulrahman Al-Asoumi arrived in Pakistan on Sunday for a five-day visit to boost bilateral cooperation.
The parliament is the Arab League’s legislative body, with Al-Asoumi leading a high-profile delegation that will meet President Arif Ali, Prime Minister Imran Khan, Senate Chairman Muhammed Sadiq Sanjrani and other senior political leaders.
“Several memorandum of understanding and agreements will be signed between the Arab Parliament and the Upper House of Pakistan (senate) to promote institutional cooperation,” the Senate said.
Senator Sana Jamali welcomed the delegation on its arrival and described the Arab Parliament as a “very important forum.”
“The common goal is to pave the way for the development of bilateral cooperation and mutual relations,” Jamali told Arab News, saying that the delegation’s main activities would start from Monday.
“Their first engagement is at the House of Federation (Senate), where the chairman will welcome them. After meeting with (the) chairman, MOUs and agreements will be signed there.” 
Jamali added that the group would hold talks with Alvi and Khan later in the day.
“The agreements will focus on strengthening (the) bonding between Pakistani and Arab parliaments. The main areas are bilateral parliamentarian exchanges, economic and cultural cooperation between member countries,” she said.
The parliament tweeted that the visit would be the “first of its kind.”
“This visit aims to strengthen Arab parliamentary relations with the Pakistani side, especially in light of positive developments and remarkable growth in relations between the two sides in the political, economic, security and military fields,” it said.


UK court ruling raises concerns over return of terror suspects

UK court ruling raises concerns over return of terror suspects
Updated 01 August 2021

UK court ruling raises concerns over return of terror suspects

UK court ruling raises concerns over return of terror suspects
  • High Court ruled in favor of suspected Daesh member stripped of British citizenship
  • Govt decision deemed unlawful as she had not been informed

LONDON: An English court decision on Friday could pave the way for dozens of terror suspects to return to the UK.
The High Court ruled in favor of a grandmother who was stripped of her British citizenship after being suspected of belonging to Daesh, together with her daughters.
The woman, known as D4, was a suspected national security threat and had her citizenship revoked in 2019. She now resides in a detention camp in northeast Syria.
The court ruled that the UK government’s decision to revoke her citizenship was unlawful as she had not been informed of the move.
The ruling has raised concerns that other terror suspects could return to the UK. A government source told The Times: “It will open up the prospect of people judged to be a national security risk being sent back here.”
Former Conservative Cabinet member David Davis warned: “This chaotic outcome demonstrates that we need to revisit this policy so these people are treated with justice, but people liable for crimes are dealt with under British law.”
Sources said at least 28 terror suspects could use the ruling to stage their own legal cases in a bid to return to the UK.