KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia has entered a state of emergency. It will last until Aug 1 or earlier depending on the state of coronavirus infections, a statement from the palace said.
The king’s proclamation on the state of emergency on Tuesday morning (Jan 12) came amid an alarming rise of COVID-19 cases in Malaysia, with the national total surpassing 138,000 and the healthcare system at a breaking point.
On Monday, the government announced the tightening of COVID-19 restrictions, placing five states and three federal territories under the Movement Control Order (MCO) again for two weeks.
Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin stressed in his live address on Tuesday morning that this state of emergency is not a military coup and no curfew will be enforced.
The prime minister said economic activities will continue to take place and people can continue to work while business, trade and industries can operate as usual, with adherence to standard operating procedures.
“To all the stakeholders keenly monitoring what is happening in Malaysia, I emphasise that Malaysia is open for business.
“In facing these challenging times, this period of emergency will give us much needed calm and stability, as well as enable us to focus on economic recovery and regeneration. We remain committed to good governance in these times and we have a robust and dynamic regulatory ecosystem,” Mr Muhyiddin said.
Here’s what we know so far:
WHAT IS A STATE OF EMERGENCY IN MALAYSIA'S CONTEXT?
Article 150(1) of the Constitution stipulates that if the Malaysian king is satisfied that a grave emergency exists, whereby the security, or the economic life, or public order in the federation or any part thereof is threatened, he may issue a proclamation of emergency.
The last time a nationwide state of emergency was invoked was in 1969 due to the May 13 riots. A curfew was declared and the parliamentary rule was later re-established in February 1971.
The current COVID-19 pandemic has presented a great threat to the economic life of the people, thus warranting a state of emergency, said Mr Muhyiddin in his Tuesday address.
During the period, the parliament and state legislative assemblies will not sit until a time decided by the king, he added.
The prime minister assured the people that the state of emergency does not mean a military coup and there will not be a curfew.
The Cabinet and the state executive councils will continue to function, the prime minister added.
“I assure you that the administrative and public service machineries of the federal and state governments will not be affected by this declaration of emergency,” he added.
WHAT CAN HAPPEN DURING A STATE OF EMERGENCY?
To curb the spread of COVID-19, the king can proclaim several emergency ordinances on matters related to private hospital assets; temporary ownership of land, buildings or moveable properties of private hospitals; or to request to use the resources of private hospitals to treat patients, according to Mr Muhyiddin.
The government can also seek a more inclusive involvement from the private sector including private healthcare facilities to help ease the burden of government agencies, especially public hospitals, he added.
“Through this ordinance, assistance that can be obtained from the private sector covers human resources, expertise, facilities, assets, laboratories and utilities,” he said.
READ: No parliamentary sitting or election during COVID-19 state of emergency, says Malaysian PM Muhyiddin
An ordinance can also be promulgated to allocate enforcement powers to the armed forces. In line with the proclamation of the state of emergency, border control will be tightened through empowering military personnel to arrest illegal immigrants and anyone who breaches national borders.
Additionally, the penalty for those who violate the laws and regulations related to the control of the COVID-19 pandemic can be increased by enacting an ordinance to amend the Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases Act 1988. This move could enhance the effectiveness of enforcement, Mr Muhyiddin said.
Ordinances aimed at combating economic sabotage, monopoly and excessive increase of prices of goods can also be proclaimed by the king, with stricter enforcement actions and heavier penalties to be imposed.
WILL THERE BE ELECTIONS?
General elections, state elections and by-elections will not be held during the emergency, Mr Muhyiddin said.
On some parties urging for a general election to be held, the prime minister said it is not his intention to not call for the general election.
The COVID-19 pandemic is the main issue stopping him from advising the king to dissolve the parliament and pave the way for the election, he said.
An independent special committee will be established under an ordinance to advise the king on whether a major emergency still occurs, in order to decide to continue the period of emergency or terminate the proclamation earlier than the date designated.
“I give a firm commitment that a general election will be held as soon as the independent special committee to be established certifies that the COVID-19 pandemic has subsided or fully recovered, and elections are safe to be held.
“When the time comes, it is up to the people to choose which government is qualified to govern this country and take care of your welfare,” he said.
Mr Muhyiddin said it is very important for politicians to set aside their differences and stand in solidarity with the people.
He also gave his assurance that the judiciary system will continue to function during the state of emergency.
“The judiciary will continue to be the beacon of justice in our country and I will never interfere in the business of the court,” he said.
WHAT WE KNOW ABOUT THE MCO PROTOCOLS SO FAR
Five states, including Penang, Selangor, Melaka, Johor and Sabah, and the federal territories of Kuala Lumpur, Putrajaya and Labuan will be placed under MCO again from Wednesday until Jan 26.
Interstate travel is banned across the country, while travelling between districts is not allowed for the states under MCO.
In his Monday address, Mr Muhyiddin said social activities such as wedding receptions, conferences, religious gatherings, seminars, courses and mass sports are not allowed.
Another six states - Pahang, Perak, Negeri Sembilan, Kedah, Terengganu and Kelantan - will be placed under conditional MCO (CMCO), while Perlis and Sarawak are under the recovery MCO (RMCO).
For those under MCO, only two people per family are permitted to leave home to purchase daily necessities and their movement is limited to a 10km radius.
Eateries and hawker stalls are only allowed to open for takeaways in MCO states, while those in CMCO and RMCO states can operate with adherence to SOPs.
With the new school year slated to begin on Jan 20, the Education Ministry has announced that only students sitting for major school leaving examinations will return to schools in MCO areas.
For these states and territories, primary school pupils and those in Secondary 1 to 4 will continue learning from home.
Education institutions in CMCO and RMCO states will operate according to their respective academic calendars, the ministry added.
Senior Minister for Education Mohd Radzi Md Jidin said in a press conference on Tuesday that private kindergartens in areas under MCO are allowed to open as usual, as parents need to work with some economic sectors remaining operational.
More implementation details are expected to be announced by the authorities.
WHAT ARE THE PROTOCOLS FOR BUSINESSES DURING MCO?
In a statement issued on Tuesday in response to the reinstatement of MCO, Senior Minister for Economy Mohamed Azmin Ali said these five states and three federal territories are the main drivers of the country’s economic activities and major contributors to gross domestic product (GDP).
In total, they account for 66.3 per cent of the total GDP, he said.
The government’s decision to allow five essential economic sectors - manufacturing, construction, services, trade and distribution sectors, as well as plantations and commodities - to operate in these places is to ensure the country’s economic recovery process, business sustainability and avoid high unemployment rates, he said.
This will also ensure that people continue to have access to basic and critical necessities, Mr Mohamed Azmin, who is also the Minister for International Trade and Industry, said.
Only 30 per cent of employees in the management group are allowed in the office, he added.
"The number of support staff and employees directly involved in the production line will be determined by their respective employers, taking into account strict compliance to the SOPs," the minister said.
The Work From Home (WFH) direction will also apply for work that does not require physical attendance.
"The government calls on the industry and the private sector to enhance the implementation of WFH as a new norm, in line with the advances of the latest technologies and online applications," the minister said.
The minister said the proactive action by the government will have a positive impact on the country's economic growth, local and foreign investment flows as well as the sustainability of small- and medium-size enterprises.