KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia will tighten COVID-19 restrictions beginning Wednesday (Jan 13), said Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin in a renewed effort to combat the country's alarming rise of COVID-19 cases.
In a televised address on Monday, Mr Muhyiddin said five states, including Penang, Selangor, Melaka, Johor and Sabah, and the federal territories of Kuala Lumpur, Putrajaya and Labuan will be placed under Movement Control Order (MCO) again for two weeks until Jan 26.
Interstate travel is banned across the country, while travelling between districts is not allowed for the states under MCO, he added.
"To prevent cross-state and cross-district (travel), roadblocks will be enforced from 12.01am on Wednesday," Mr Muhyiddin said, adding that movement was limited to a 10km radius for the states under MCO.
The country's healthcare system is at breaking point, the prime minister said.
"The situation today is indeed very alarming, Our healthcare system is under tremendous pressure now than at any other time since the start of the pandemic. As I have said before, unprecedented situations call for unprecedented measures," he added.
Recent four-digit daily jump in cases brought the national total to more than 135,000, with more than 550 deaths. On Monday, 2,232 new cases brought the total active cases to 28,554.
Two Cabinet ministers were also hospitalised for COVID-19 within the last three days.
In his address, Mr Muhyiddin said another six states - Pahang, Perak, Negeri Sembilan, Kedah, Terengganu and Kelantan - will be placed under conditional MCO (CMCO), while Perlis and Sarawak are under the recovery MCO (RMCO).
He added that social activities such as wedding receptions, conferences, religious gatherings, seminars, courses and mass sports are not allowed.
STUDENTS AND EXAM CANDIDATES ALLOWED TO ATTEND SCHOOL
While strict movement restrictions are in place, an exception would be provided for students and examination candidates, including those sitting for their Malaysian Certificate of Education (SPM) examinations in 2020 and 2021.
"They will be allowed to attend school with tight standard operating procedures (SOPs). The Education Ministry will give more details on the SOPs," he said.
The government has also identified five sectors which are allowed to operate and categorised as essential economic sectors, which are manufacturing, construction, services, trade and distribution, and the plantation and commodities, the prime minister added.
Mr Muhyiddin also announced that the third phase of clinical trials for the COVID-19 vaccines will take place on Jan 21 in nine ministry hospitals. A total of 3,000 volunteers will be involved.
In addition, the country is expected to receive the first phase supplies of Pfizer vaccines by the end of February.
"These coming two weeks are very important not just for ourselves, but for the country.
"All forms of freedom that we have sacrificed - cutting connection with friends, isolating at home, and the difficulty to carry out social activities outside, can save our lives," Mr Muhyiddin said.
Malaysia enforced the MCO beginning Mar 18 last year, mandating business closure and travel restrictions in a bid to rein in the spread of COVID-19.
The SOPs were gradually relaxed when the MCO was replaced by CMCO and then RMCO. More businesses were allowed to reopen while tourism activities could resume, among others.
However, new cases began spiking in September with new clusters detected in the state of Sabah, marking the start of Malaysia’s “third wave”.
By mid-October, Sabah and the federal territory of Labuan were placed back under CMCO status, and Selangor and the federal territories of Kuala Lumpur and Putrajaya soon followed suit.
On Oct 25, the Malaysian ruler rejected Mr Muhyiddin's suggestion to declare a state of emergency in the country over the COVID-19 situation. Nonetheless, emergency was later invoked in Batu Sapi and Bugaya in Sabah as well as Gerik in Perak so to delay the by-elections that were due to take place in these constituencies.
A record high of 3,027 cases was reported on Jan 7.
Health Ministry director-general Noor Hisham Abdullah said last week that Malaysia’s COVID-19 treatment and quarantine facilities were being pressured to “breaking point”. He also said authorities were mulling the potential of implementing home quarantines for low-risk and asymptomatic COVID-19 patients.
While Malaysia's bed capacity for COVID-19 patients is 23,000, active cases have surpassed 28,000 currently.