MCO 3.0 not as strict as first lockdown, key is to balance health and livelihoods: Ismail Sabri
KUALA LUMPUR: The latest COVID-19 curbs in Malaysia are not as strict as the first lockdown as the government sees a need to balance health and livelihoods, said Senior Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob on Tuesday (May 11).
In a joint press conference with Health Ministry director-general Noor Hisham Abdullah in Putrajaya, the minister said many businesses struggled to survive and pay their employees during the lockdown introduced in March last year, dubbed movement control order (MCO) 1.0.
"That’s why we introduced MCO (again), but not as strict as 1.0, so we can balance between the needs of people's livelihood and the healthcare system," he said.
Mr Ismail Sabri, also Defence Minister, said the country lost RM2.4 billion (US$582.7 million) a day when every economic sector was shut down, adding that the most affected ones were the small traders.
On Monday, Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin announced that Malaysia would be placed under another nationwide MCO from May 12 to Jun 7.
The movement restrictions, the third time a nationwide MCO was introduced, saw interstate and cross-district travels suspended, and house visits and visiting of graves for the Hari Raya Aidilfitri celebrations banned.
While MCO 1.0 mandated major economic activities, except for essential services, to close, almost all economic sectors were allowed to operate this time. Social gatherings were prohibited along with official functions in both the public and private sectors.
Calling the third wave of COVID-19 infections "more fierce and critical", Mr Muhyiddin said the lockdown measures were necessary due to the emergence of new variants with higher infection rate and growing constraints on the public health system.
Dr Noor Hisham, during the Tuesday press conference, said Malaysia has detected the presence of three out of four known COVID-19 variants of concern (VOCs) in the country - the United Kingdom B117 strain, South African B1351 and B1617 from India.
"Lately, we have seen an increase in (cases of) COVID-19 variants, and we have recorded 48 South African, eight UK and one Indian variant," Dr Noor Hisham told the press.
He added that the number of cases involving the South African strain had increased to 62.
"This is worrying as these variants have fast infection and high death rates," he said, recounting a number of cases in Kelantan, Selangor and Negeri Sembilan.
The implementation of MCO 3.0, he said, would give the Health Ministry time to increase preparedness and the number of ICU beds, while curbing the spread of infections.
He added that the government had looked at MCO 2.0, and it had taken three to four weeks to flatten the curve.
"If everyone can stay at home, and not be exposed to infections, the virus will die if it does not get a new host," he said.
"We are also looking at our estimates in June, based on our interventions or actions in the next two to four weeks. If our actions are correct, such as adhering to the SOPs and MCO 3.0, we can flatten the curve," Dr Noor Hisham said.
STATE OF EMERGENCY HELPS CURB SPREAD OF COVID-19
On Tuesday, Malaysia marked 3,973 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the national total up to 448,457, with 1,722 deaths.
Back in January, the king had declared a state of emergency across the country when the healthcare system was said to be at breaking point.
Asked if the emergency declaration had been a failure as the government had to institute a third MCO, Dr Noor Hisham said the emergency ordinance had helped greatly, although its value could not be evaluated.
"We used the emergency ordinance to avoid by-elections, for example in Batu Sapi, Bugaya and Grik, and also the Sarawak state election," he said.
Sarawak's election is due within 60 days after the state legislature ends its five-year term in June.
Without the emergency declaration and ordinance, Dr Noor Hisham said, the by-elections and Sarawak state election would have been unavoidable.
"We look at the implications from the Sabah state election, when the infections began after and spread to the peninsular and every state, and also from (the situation in) India.
"One factor cases are rising and spreading in India is that they had five (state) elections. One campaign involved 200,000 individuals, and they did not adhere to SOPs," he said.