KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia reported 39 new COVID-19 infections on Friday (Mar 13), its highest increase in a single day to date.
The national total now stands at 197 cases, with four patients in the intensive care unit currently receiving breathing support and anti-viral treatment.
The COVID-19 patients comprise 177 Malaysians and 15 Chinese nationals, as well as citizens from Indonesia, Italy, Japan and the United States.
The state of Selangor reported the most cases, with 105 patients, followed by the federal territory of Kuala Lumpur with 26 cases. Johor and Sabah have reported 16 and 15 cases respectively.
The spike in the number of infections came as Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin announced that all mass gatherings, including conferences, sports meets and religious events, should be cancelled or postponed until Apr 30.
He also encouraged members of the public to practice good hygiene, as well as use face masks and hand sanitisers.
Muhyiddin said the increase in coronavirus cases was due to two new clusters, mostly involving Malaysians.
In order to counter the spread of COVID-19, Muhyiddin emphasised that Malaysia will maintain an inbound travel ban on the Chinese provinces of Hubei, Jiangsu and Zhejiang. Malaysia has also banned visitors from Hokkaido, Italy, Iran and South Korea.
He added that the Malaysian government will further tighten screening, restrict travel and provide special lanes for visitors from other affected countries.
On Thursday, Malaysia also imposed a travel ban on all arrivals from Denmark, effective Saturday.
Muhyiddin said Malaysia's tourism sector had likely suffered nearly RM3.4 billion (US$800 million) in losses in the first two months of the year, and that the outbreak was expected to cut full-year gross domestic product by between 0.8 per cent and 1.2 per cent.
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"Immediate steps need to implemented ... to reduce the impact of the pandemic on the nation's economy," he said in a televised address, adding that the government would ensure a US$4.7 billion stimulus package announced last month was quickly and fairly implemented.
Muhyiddin said the country was facing a "second wave" of infections, adding: "Based on current trends, this epidemic is expected to go on for a reasonably long period of time. It will not end in the near future."
RELIGIOUS EVENT SPARKED NEW CLUSTER
Malaysia’s religious affairs minister Zulkifli Mohamad Al-Bakri had previously said on Thursday that the COVID-19 situation was under control and that there was no requirement for Friday prayers to be suspended.
His remarks came a day after the Malaysian Health Ministry said efforts were being made to track those believed to have been potentially exposed to the coronavirus at a religious event held at Masjid Jamek Sri Petaling, in the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur.
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The tabligh event, also known as a religious rally, drew about 16,000 participants, a majority of whom were Malaysians.
A participant from Brunei was said to have contracted the coronavirus after attending the gathering. He tested positive on Wednesday and is Brunei’s first COVID-19 case. Brunei has since reported a total of 25 cases, mostly linked to the religious event.
The cluster has so far infected at least 40 other Malaysians and some Singaporeans.