Malaysia records highest daily increase in COVID-19 cases as more infections traced to Sabah

Malaysia records highest daily increase in COVID-19 cases as more infections traced to Sabah

Commuters wearing face masks wait in line to board a bus
Commuters wearing face masks wait in line to board a bus in Kuala Lumpur, Oct 2, 2020. (Photo: Reuters/Lim Huey Teng)

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia on Friday (Oct 2) reported its highest daily increase in COVID-19 cases since the pandemic was first recorded in the country, with 287 new infections.

All of the new cases are local transmissions. Of those, 129 are from Kedah, 113 are from Sabah and 31 are from Selangor. There were also two new clusters at Seri Anggerik and Seri Setia.

Malaysia has reported a steady climb in cases after an increase in travellers to and from Sabah for the state elections.

Twenty of the infections reported on Friday had recently been to Sabah, the health ministry said in its update. These cases then travelled back to various states such as Selangor, Terengganu, Perak and Negeri Sembilan.

This takes the cumulative number of cases involving travel to Sabah to 139 since Sep 20.

READ: Malaysia's Health Ministry looking into fully reopening border with Singapore

Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin's government has been criticised for failing to impose controls such as mandatory screening for travellers from Sabah prior to the election, and for allowing people to cut short a 14-day home quarantine order if they tested negative for the coronavirus.

More than 700 police personnel are currently undergoing quarantine after they were flown to Sabah to assist in operations during the state elections. 

In Penang, 600 school students were ordered to undergo testing after a teacher tested positive for COVID-19 upon returning from accompanying her husband, a politician, on the Sabah campaign trail.

Muhyiddin's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but health officials have defended not announcing control measures sooner, saying authorities did not want to discourage Sabah voters from returning home to cast their ballots.

However, health ministry director-general Noor Hisham Abdullah said on Friday that the spike in Sabah could have been mitigated by compliance with guidelines set by the ministry on minimising physical contact.

"The issue now is the non-compliance to standard operating procedures at every level," Dr Noor Hisham said at a news conference, referring to the ministry's guidelines.

"We are not blaming (anyone), but we are reminding ... we hope that all of us learn this lesson so we do not repeat this mistake again."

READ: Malaysia says no more fist bumps as COVID-19 numbers jump

Dr Noor Hisham previously said on Thursday that the increase in cases could be seen as “the beginning of a new wave” and urged the public to continue practicing social distancing and avoid leaving their homes unless necessary.

From the early stages of the pandemic, Malaysia's health ministry prescribed guidelines to minimise the spread of the virus, which included wearing face masks, maintaining a distance of at least 1m between people and washing hands regularly with soap.

The hashtags #PoliticiansCauseVirus and #MinisterCluster were trending on Twitter in Malaysia on Friday after ministers and political figures were reported attending public events upon their return from campaigning in the state.

At least two politicians tested positive on the campaign trail, while cases linked to travel to Sabah have been recorded in all 13 Malaysian states.

Malaysia has reported 11,771 coronavirus cases so far, including 136 deaths. The economy has contracted for the first time since the 2009 global financial crisis.

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Source: Agencies/zl