KUALA LUMPUR: Main roads in Malaysia fell silent on Tuesday (Jun 1) as the country began its third nationwide lockdown amid a surging third wave of COVID-19 that has hit record levels in recent weeks.
Only essential businesses, such as supermarkets and medical clinics, are allowed to continue with business during the first phase of the lockdown, from Jun 1 to Jun 14.
Most schools are closed and shopping malls have also been shuttered.
Only two people from each household are allowed to go out to buy essentials or for medical services, with movement limited to a 10km radius. Travel between most parts of the country has been banned for months.
READ: Malaysia’s daily COVID-19 cases may hit 13,000 by mid-June if regulations are not followed: Health ministry
The latest outbreak has been more severe, partly due to highly transmissible variants. It has also strained the health service, prompting some in the capital Kuala Lumpur to question whether enough has been done.
"For me, the lockdown should have been carried out during Ramadan when there were fewer cases and people didn’t move around as much," said bank manager Muhammad Azril Maridzuan, referring to the Muslim fasting month that ended in mid-May.
"Now, people are moving around more. So it's a little late but a lockdown is okay to reduce our infection rates," he said.
READ: More than 82,300 children in Malaysia have tested positive for COVID-19 so far: Health ministry
More than 800 roadblocks have been set up throughout the country alongside the deployment of about 55,000 police officers.
Traffic appeared lighter in parts of the often congested capital, with cars moving smoothly around the landmark 88-storey Petronas Twin Towers.
Home minister Hamzah Zainudin said vehicle movement on roads dropped by about 70 per cent on average. Any congestion at roadblocks was due to the authorities ensuring road users followed the regulations, he added.
Another Kuala Lumpur resident was also worried about the scope of the latest curbs.
"I think even with the new restrictions, the airports are still open so there is still a potential that COVID-19 can spread even while the people are struggling (under lockdown) right now," said Siti, a 25-year-old food delivery rider, who declined to give her full name.
Malaysia on Monday announced an additional RM40 billion (US$9.7 billion) stimulus package, as the finance minister warned on Tuesday that this year's economic growth forecast of 6 per cent to 7.5 per cent may have to be revised down due to the new lockdown measures.
The number of new daily COVID-19 cases has been greater than India's on a per capita basis, although infections have come down since hitting a record on Saturday, Reuters reported.
While there had been growing calls for tougher action, the two-week lockdown will deal a fresh blow to many businesses that have struggled to stay afloat over the past year.
"The impact of the coronavirus on small businesses like mine is devastating," said Lilian Chua, whose hair salon outside Kuala Lumpur will have to close.
"The government imposes a lockdown but the virus is in the air - they need to speed up vaccinations," the 42-year-old told AFP.
Fewer than 6 per cent of Malaysia's population have so far received at least one vaccine dose.
The Malaysian Medical Association (MMA) on Tuesday said there has been a lack of engagement with private general practitioners on their involvement in the national COVID-19 immunisation programme.
Malaysia's vaccination drive, which began in February, is now in its second phase. As of May 31, more than 3 million doses of vaccine have been administered. More than 12 million people - half of the total target - have registered for vaccination.
As of Tuesday, Malaysia has reported a total of 579,462 COVID-19 cases, of which 80,474 are currently active or infectious. There have been 2,867 fatalities to date.