Updated: May 31, 2021 05:36 AM GMT
A medical worker conducts a Covid-19 test on a child at a free testing site in Shah Alam on the outskirts of Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur on May 27. (Photo: AFP)
The Malaysian government has finally imposed a total lockdown after a dramatic surge in the number of Covid-19 cases, but authorities have been criticized for doing too little too late and putting business interests ahead of public health.
A two-week total lockdown with Phase 1 beginning June 1 was announced over the weekend as the health minister reported more than 9,000 daily cases.
Only essential economic and service sectors listed by the National Security Council will be allowed to operate during Phase 1, a statement issued by Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin said.
“This decision was made after taking into account the current situation of Covid-19 transmission in Malaysia with daily case numbers exceeding 8,000 and active cases exceeding 70,000,” it said.
According to Our World in Data, Malaysia’s daily Covid-19 infections per million people, on a seven-day rolling basis, exceeded India last week amid a surge in the disease.
Malaysia is experiencing its second pandemic wave this year after partial lockdowns were imposed ahead of Ramadan in early May.
Many are concerned that a strict lockdown will damage the economy
The Southeast Asian country has recorded more than 559,000 cases and 2,650 deaths, with the daily rate of confirmed cases rising fivefold since March 30.
Among them were at least 93 “brought in dead”, or victims who did not die in a hospital, reported from May 1-25, more than three times the number announced for April.
Muhyiddin imposed a state of emergency in January but public anger has been palpable, particularly online, amid accusations his government had not done enough, with less than 3 percent of the population fully vaccinated, a poor result compared with Singapore or Cambodia.
“Many are concerned that a strict lockdown will damage the economy … But the impact is going to be worse, or go on for much longer, if we continue with half-hearted measures,” warned Adeeba Kamarulzaman, an infectious diseases specialist at the University of Malaya.
Malaysia is also struggling to secure vaccinations but says it is now moving to speed up its rollout and is acquiring a further 16 million doses of vaccines over the next two months.
That includes 2.2 million doses of the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine, 12 million doses of Sinovac and 1.2 million doses of AstraZeneca with the aim of inoculating 80 percent of the population.
The PM said he was aware of the criticism. “They can call me ‘stupid prime minister’ — it’s OK,” Muhyiddin said in a televised interview. “I know how difficult it is to manage, but this is our joint responsibility.”
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