(Mar 16): Malaysia is restricting people’s movement nationwide to limit the spread of the coronavirus.
The country is banning all visitors, and residents are barred from traveling overseas while places of worship, schools and business premises will be shut except for markets that supply daily needs, Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin said in a televised address late Monday. The measures are effective March 18 to 31, he said.
Malaysians returning from overseas must undergo a 14-day self-quarantine, while government and private-sector operations will be shut except for those providing essential services such as utilities, health, banking and food supply.
“The government’s priority now is to prevent a new spread of this outbreak, which is feared will infect more people,” Muhyiddin said. “The current situation of this outbreak requires drastic measures to restore the situation as soon as possible.”
“We cannot wait any longer until the situation becomes more acute,” he added.
The country has the largest number of confirmed cases in Southeast Asia, with 125 new cases reported on Monday to push the overall tally to 553. Many of the new infections are linked to a religious gathering attended by about 16,000 people at Sri Petaling mosque near Kuala Lumpur, Health Minister Adham Baba said at a separate briefing.
Neighboring countries have reported cases linked to the event, with Singapore extending its closure of mosques until March 26 on concern over the virus.
“It’s a bold move and its lauded,” Mohd Afzanizam Abdul Rashid, chief economist at Bank Islam Malaysia Bhd., said on Muhyiddin’s measures. “Yes, it could have an impact to the economy in the immediate term as economic activities would not operate as per normal. However, we could see a pent-up demand once the virus can be contained.”
Muhyiddin had earlier called off gatherings including sports events and international conferences through April, potentially disrupting the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meetings set to be hosted in the country this year.
Malaysia’s handling of the outbreak has been complicated by a power struggle that saw an abrupt change of government in late February after the shock resignation of former leader Mahathir Mohamad, who has warned that the current pandemic is set to hit global economies harder than even the 1997 financial crisis.
While Mahathir is a veteran with more than two decades spent as prime minister in two stints, Muhyiddin is only weeks into the role with a cabinet composed of many first-time ministers including for the health and finance portfolio. The new premier has sought to largely maintain his predecessor’s policies, including keeping a 20 billion ringgit ($6.6 billion) stimulus package and projects laid out in a budget drafted by the previous administration.
On Monday, Muhyiddin rolled out additions to the stimulus, including cash handouts for workers forced to take unpaid leave and discounts on electricity tariffs for tourism and other industries.