KUALA LUMPUR: Despite the sharp increase in COVID-19 cases in Malaysia, Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin said on Tuesday (Oct 6) that the government has not considered enforcing a nationwide lockdown again.
In a televised national address, Mr Muhyiddin explained that this was because doing so could lead to the collapse of the social and economic systems of the nation.
"For now we are not thinking of a total lockdown because if it is carried out one more time, it can leave a large impact that we're afraid would crash the social and economic system in the country," he said.
The lockdown dubbed movement control order (MCO) was enforced on Mar 18, with schools and businesses forced to close to curb the spread of the coronavirus. It was subsequently eased into conditional MCO and recovery MCO (RMCO), where almost all economic sectors resumed their operations.
Malaysia's RMCO phase is scheduled to be enforced until Dec 31.
The prime minister, in his address, explained that instead of a nationwide MCO, authorities would instead enforce targeted enhanced MCO (TEMCO) in areas with a high number of cases.
"I believe the readiness of our health system will enable us to manage the COVID-19 pandemic without having to shut economic systems like what was done before.
"Currently, the economic recovery is going well. Whatever decision that will be made has to take into consideration the livelihood of the 15 million working population," he said.
Previously, Mr Muhyiddin had said that the Malaysian economy loses approximately RM2.4 billion (US$578 million) every single day the MCO was enforced.
In his address, the prime minister said that decisions on interstate travel restrictions and school closures would be done following thorough discussion by the National Security Council.
"I understand many parents are worried about their children in school. Currently the government has decided to close schools in red zones."
"If there is a need to restrict inter-state travels, the National Security Council will discuss and make a decision. I guarantee that sufficient notice will be given to members of the public before any decision is enforced so that no one is stranded," he said.
Mr Muhyiddin added that the government was studying a proposal to restrict events and gatherings such as conferences and wedding banquets.
The Ministry of Health would provide its input on the matter, he said.
SABAH POLLS A CONTRIBUTING FACTOR
Noting the increase in cases in Kedah and Sabah, Mr Muhyiddin said he admitted that the Sabah state election was among the contributing factors of the surge in the Borneo state.
"I admit that the election campaigning in Sabah is part of the reasons for the increase in COVID-19 cases. The state election had to be called after Sabah head of state dissolved the state assembly on Jul 30," he said.
"I am aware that the Election Commission had specific standard operating procedures (SOPs) to ensure that the COVID-19 (virus) does not spread as a result of the election campaigns. But unfortunately some SOPs were not adhered to," he said, adding that social distancing was not maintained.
Currently, four districts in Sabah - Lahad Datu, Tawau, Kunak and Semporna - are under TEMCO.
Earlier on Tuesday, Senior Minister and Defence Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob had announced a travel ban from Sabah to Peninsular Malaysia, Sarawak and the Federal Territory of Labuan from Oct 12 to Oct 25.
Entry into Sabah is also limited to Sabahans and their spouses, workers of essential services and permanent residents of the state.
"I HAVE TO START USING THE CANE"
In his Tuesday address, Mr Muhyiddin stressed that punishments await those who failed to comply with the SOPs, regardless of their status or titles.
Enforcement officers will be deployed nationwide to ensure compliance among the people, he added.
"I apologise if this abah has to start using the cane," he said, referring to himself using the Maly word for father.
Mr Muhyiddin is currently undergoing a 14-day home quarantine, after a minister who attended a meeting he chaired over the weekend tested positive for COVID-19.
He said there would be no double standards when it comes to quarantine order.
"As the prime minister, I am not exempted from this SOP. This is the second time I am undergoing quarantine at home since the COVID-19 pandemic hit the country. I must follow the rules.
"As will the seven ministers and six deputy ministers. All of them are not exempted from following the quarantine order. They must adhere to the rule and if they do not comply, action will be taken against them," he said.
The COVID-19 pandemic appeared to be under control in Malaysia between June and August, until cases started to rise again in September.
On Tuesday, Malaysia reported yet another day of record high cases. The 691 new cases brought the total so far to 13,504.
READ: Malaysian PM Muhyiddin on 14-day home quarantine after religious affairs minister tests positive for COVID-19
In a statement on Monday, Mr Muhyddin said he had earlier chaired a special National Security Council meeting on Saturday, which was also attended by Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Zulkifli Mohamad Al-Bakri.
The minister has since tested positive for COVID-19 and is seeking treatment in a hospital in Seremban, he added.
Mr Muhyddin said he would undergo self-quarantine at his residence for 14 days based on the Ministry of Health's advice.
"However, this will not affect government affairs. I will continue to work from home and have video calls for meetings that have to be chaired by me," said the prime minister.
The prime minister added that the Ministry of Health has conducted COVID-19 detection screening test on all attendees and the secretariat of the Saturday meeting.
He also said that as a precaution, he has been undergoing swab test every two weeks since April and all results were negative.
In a tweet on Tuesday, Dr Zulkifli said: “This period of time given by Allah SWT gives me the opportunity to reflect, and examine the areas for improvement for the future.”
“I am, from the bottom of a truly sincere heart, once again apologising for what happened.”