Malaysia decides against full lockdown

Malaysia decides against full lockdown

Economic cost deemed too steep even as new Covid cases top 6,000 daily

People wait in an observation area after receiving a dose of the Sinovec Covid-19 vaccine at the Pandamaran Sports Hall in Port Klang, Selangor, Malaysia, on Thursday. (Bloomberg Photo)
People wait in an observation area after receiving a dose of the Sinovec Covid-19 vaccine at the Pandamaran Sports Hall in Port Klang, Selangor, Malaysia, on Thursday. (Bloomberg Photo)

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia on Saturday decided against a nationwide lockdown despite daily Covid-19 cases hitting more than 6,000 this week.

Defence Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob, who coordinates the implementation of Covid restrictions in the country, said other measures will be implemented, including shortened business hours and requiring millions of more people to work from home.

Malaysia recorded 6,320 new cases in the past 24 hours with 50 fatalities on Saturday, the fourth consecutive day in which daily cases in the country of 32 million exceeded 6,000.

The surge in infections has prompted calls for a total lockdown like the one in March last year when coronavirus infections topped 100 cases. However, industry groups who met with Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin on Friday opposed a complete lockdown, citing concerns over the impact on the economy.

In a joint news conference on Saturday with Director General of Health Noor Hisham Abdullah, Ismail said the government decided against a total lockdown because “we want to balance health interest and people’s livelihoods. During the first lockdown, the country’s economy suffered 2.4 billion ringgit ($580 million) in losses a day.”

He added that 800,000 people lost their jobs last year.

Starting from Tuesday, malls, restaurants and bazaars can open from 8am to 8pm instead of the current operating hours of 6am to 10pm. Public transport will have to reduce their capacity by half, while 80% of civil servants and 40% from the private sector must work from home.

While a complete lockdown has been avoided, Hisham urged the public to practice self-lockdowns for at least two weeks to give the health care sector breathing space to stockpile equipment and medicine.

“We need to break the chain so that hospitals can accommodate more patients that are expected in the coming days,” he said.

He stressed that intensive care units throughout the country have reached over 90% capacity, and in Kuala Lumpur and its surrounding territory, ICU capacity has hit 113%, forcing hospitals to convert other wards into ICUs.

The country has logged 505,115 cases and 2,199 deaths, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

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