KUALA LUMPUR: Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin has reminded Malaysians to comply with social distancing rules as new COVID-19 clusters have been detected in the country, adding that mask-wearing might be made compulsory in public.
In a televised address on Monday (Jul 20), Mr Muhyiddin said Malaysia was again reporting double-digit increase in new positive cases since a few days ago.
"This situation cannot be taken lightly. I'm sure we do not want the government to return to enforcing a lockdown, if COVID-19 cases rise rapidly. I also pray that we do not have to reach that level," he said.
While the number of new cases has remained low, Mr Muhyiddin expressed concern that 13 new clusters have been detected throughout the current recovery movement control order (RMCO) phase.
Cautioning against complacency, the prime minister urged people to continue wearing face masks, maintain a distance of 1m from each other and avoid physical contact.
"The government is considering making mask-wearing compulsory in public spaces. Details will be announced when the relevant regulations have been decided by the government," he said.
Malaysia’s total cases now stands at 8,800, with 123 deaths.
The MCO was enforced on Mar 18 to restrict movement of the public and to break the infection chain. Most economic sectors were later allowed to reopen in the following conditional MCO phase when the number of cases showed a downward trend.
Four months of efforts seemed to have paid off as Malaysia began to report mostly single-digit increase in daily new cases - and even zero local transmission on a few days - until new clusters emerged.
Given that many of the COVID-19 positive cases were discovered among returnees or arrivals from overseas, Mr Muhyiddin called on Malaysians returning from overseas to be disciplined in undergoing their 14-day home quarantine, as those who failed to self-isolate could face penalties.
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"If need be, the government will place Malaysians returning from overseas in quarantines centres to control the import cases more effectively.
"Legal enforcement will be enhanced with heavier penalties on those found to have violated the laws and regulations," he said.
Mr Muhyiddin also warned that going back to the stricter MCO would have a massive economic impact, as re-closing economic sectors could cost the country at least RM2 billion (US$469 million) a day.
If that happens, the country's gross domestic product forecasts for 2021 might not be achieved, and the unemployment rate, which was recorded at 5.3 per cent in May, might rise further, he added.