Coronavirus News Asia

Malaysia’s rush to reopen risks a viral revival


SINGAPORE – Malaysian businesses may resume operations beginning today (March 4) in a partial easing of Covid-19 restrictions that aims at to revive the nation’s shuttered economy. 

Time will tell, however, if the government has moved too soon in easing amid concerns that relaxing restrictions could give rise to new infection clusters, including among foreign workers.

A movement control order (MCO) has been in force since March 18 which has closed non-essential businesses and schools in a military-enforced stay-home lockdown. The nationwide quarantine, which has been extended three times to date, is due to end on May 12.

Many were thus surprised when Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin announced plans to begin an earlier easing on economic activity on May 1, with businesses given just a weekend to prepare to reopen in compliance with sector-specific standard operating procedures (SOPs) designed to prevent a new wave of infections.

The easing has already been criticized as too abrupt amid concerns that a hasty reopening could undo the success Malaysia has had in flattening its epidemic curve.

The Muslim-majority nation previously had the highest number of cases in Southeast Asia, but movement curbs, mass testing and aggressive contract tracing turned the viral tide.

Daily recoveries now frequently exceed new infections, suggesting that Malaysia is succeeding in containing the pandemic. With 6,298 total cases and 105 deaths, its caseload is lower than in Singapore, the Philippines and Indonesia, the latter two of which have far higher death tolls.

An airport security officer checks a passenger at the entrance of the Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) in Sepang, Malaysia on May 4, 2020. Photo: AFP Forum via Anadolu Agency/Farid Bin Tajuddin

Authorities have justified sending Malaysians back to work as striking a balance between life and livelihood, with the septuagenarian premier himself counting the economic cost.



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