KUALA LUMPUR: A full COVID-19 lockdown with all sectors shut like what was imposed last year would guarantee people’s safety, but there is a risk that the economy could collapse, said Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin.
Speaking in an interview aired by RTM and Bernama TV on Sunday (May 23), he noted that there have been calls for stricter curbs during the current Movement Control Order (MCO) to match what was first imposed between March and May last year.
“We (could) close everything and sit quietly, factories close and everyone stays at home and that guarantees safety. It is easy for the government and Ministry of Health to manage our lives," he said.
“We saw the cases rise ... so I made a decision to close everything (last year) ... At that time, the cases were few, it was easy to manage - just a few clusters, but not widespread in our community ... The impact on the economy was very big,” he recounted.
He noted that the economy almost collapsed back then, with the country losing RM2.4 billion (US$579 million) per day. The government rolled out RM340 billion worth of economic assistance.
Mr Muhyiddin said that things are different now, with a majority of the cases in the community.
“If we need to do it again (and roll out economic assistance), we need more money. RM340 billion will not be enough because the impact is worse. I would need to set aside half a trillion. But do we have half a trillion?"
“That is why we have learnt over the last year, we cannot close the economy. We have to balance life and livelihoods ... I think life is important because I do not want people to die because of our or their carelessness. But I also do not want our economy to collapse to a point where people have no money to eat," he said.
He added: "Now we are at MCO 3.0, which is a little restricted ... Why did we not go back to MCO 1.0? We can, but what about the impact (to the economy)? People have to understand."
On Saturday, the government announced tighter restrictions that will kick in on May 25 under the current MCO 3.0. These include more people being made to work from home, while business operating hours were reduced to between 8am to 8pm, among others.
READ: More people in Malaysia to work from home, shorter business hours among new COVID-19 curbs during MCO 3.0
The Prime Minister's Office (PMO) had said on Friday that the federal government would tighten MCO 3.0, with stricter curbs on economic and social sectors.
Earlier this month, Mr Muhyiddin announced that Malaysia would be placed under another nationwide MCO from May 12 to Jun 7.
The movement restrictions, the third time a nationwide MCO was introduced, saw interstate and cross-district travels suspended, and house visits and visiting of graves for the Hari Raya Aidilfitri celebrations banned.
All educational institutions were closed and dining-in at restaurants was also prohibited. Only three people were allowed to travel in each car, including the driver.
Despite the measures, the COVID-19 cases across the country have continued to surge over the last two weeks.
On Sunday, Malaysia logged a record high of 6,976 new cases. The cumulative national tally is now more than 500,000.
MUHYIDDIN URGES PEOPLE TO PRACTICE SELF- LOCKDOWN
During the interview on Sunday, the prime minister urged people to play their part in helping to keep Malaysia and the world safe.
“This is a challenge for all of us. Not just me or you, it’s all of us. As mentioned before, it’s about the whole of society, all of us are involved together.
“We are presently at war, and usually during a war, we look for cover. We do not go out in the open, or we will get shot. So as I mentioned earlier, what is most safe is we sit at home, most safe is we follow SOPs (standard operating procedures), I’ve said this many times."
He added: “People ask me why not impose a lockdown? I say, you do your own lockdown, a self-lockdown. Just stay at home to be safe and tell others to do the same.”
When asked to comment on observations that the health protocols are confusing, the prime minister explained that the restrictions are being adjusted because the pandemic situation keeps evolving.
He also acknowledged that there may be a perception of double standards by the government in enforcing health protocols. He stated, however, that this is not true.
"We don’t care if it’s a minister or prime minister who breaks the law... (If) there is proof, then they will not be spared from the fine.”
NO 100% GUARANTEE COVID-19 VARIANTS WILL NOT ENTER MALAYSIA
Mr Muhyiddin was also asked to comment on how the more infectious COVID-19 variants, such as those originating from South Africa and India, have been detected in Malaysia despite border closures.
Mr Muhyiddin stressed that even though the borders are mostly closed to visitors, there was no sure way to prevent these variants from entering the country. However, he maintained that the government was taking precautions to prevent this from happening as much as possible.
“Seriously, it’s difficult to say the variant have entered because of (lax) border restrictions … Regardless of how we manage, there is no 100 per cent guarantee the variant will not enter this country,” he said.
He added: “Our borders are expansive, not just the peninsula, there’s also Sabah and Sarawak where we are neighbours with the Philippines, Indonesia, where workers from Bangladesh also enter from these borders."
The prime minister reiterated that besides taking steps to manage Malaysia’s borders, what was more important is that Malaysians take care of themselves, by adhering to protocols to curb the spread of COVID-19.
“From a healthcare perspective … what is important is we are constantly being careful."