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Malaysians on Edge Waiting for News of a Full Lockdown (UPDATED)

Are empty streets again in Kuala Lumpur's future? | Image Credit: Bernama
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A day after Malaysia recorded its highest number of new Covid-19 cases and highest number of deaths, the government is meeting to discuss options.

UPDATED (9.30pm May 21): According to preliminary reports, there will not be a full-scale total lockdown. However, some restrictions of the current MCO 3.0 will be tightened, and additional SOPs imposed. The announcement concerning these measures will be made on Saturday, May 22.

Fourteen months after introducing the new term ‘Movement Control Order’ (or Perintah Kawalan Pergerakan) into the Malaysian lexicon and plunging the entire country into a wide-ranging, full-scale lockdown, the government finds itself faced with the same unenviable decision again, despite having given multiple assurances that there would be no more nationwide MCO directives.

Currently, Malaysia is technically under just such an order, but realistically, compared to the first MCO, this one is a softer, easier version. Though a number of restrictions are in place, most businesses are still allowed to operate, and a greater emphasis has been put on encouraging people to voluntarily stay at home.

The problem is, the Covid crisis in Malaysia is not improving.

On May 20, 2021, some 16 months after the first Covid-19 was detected in Malaysia, a dispiriting new record high was set for new daily cases (6,806), new daily deaths (59), and single-day number of patients in ICU (587), along with the total number of active cases (50,171) approaching the previous worst surge, which happened in February of this year.

The number of deaths and critical care cases is particularly alarming, because even in February, when both new and active cases surged, daily deaths were usually in the low double digits, only rarely exceeding 20. Now, it’s 40 to 50 on a near-daily basis, and the ICU cases are threatening to overwhelm a healthcare system stretched to extremes. Over half of the nearly 600 patients currently in ICU are on a ventilator.

It it precisely this scenario that has basically forced the government’s hand, requiring them to consider any and all options to prevent the pandemic from completely spinning out of control.

The government clearly has very little appetite for imposing a full-scale lockdown on the country, and they’re not alone: Multiple business groups and even some lawmakers have urged a different approach, saying another lockdown would crush the Malaysian economy, cause another large number of businesses to close down, and put untold thousands of jobs at serious risk.

Industry groups say retailers cannot survive another full-scale lockdown | Image Credit: The Straits Times

One such group, the Malaysia Retailers Association (MRA), indicated its opposition, with president Tan Sri William Cheng saying that retailers were “strongly and firmly” against a total lockdown, particularly in Selangor.

“The MRA is not in favour of a full lockdown, and we urge the government not to implement one as [has been] reported in the news, because it will cause irreparable damage to our economy, devastating businesses and stifling the retail recovery effort thus far, ” he said in a statement issued on May 20.

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The SME Association of Malaysia, meanwhile, has urged the government not to impose a full lockdown, warning that based on their surveys, nearly 40% of SMEs (small and medium enterprises) will close down their business operations for good if that happens.

It’s an impossible situation for which there is no easy or painless solution.

The National Security Council meeting to discuss various options will be held in Putrajaya at 3pm today, May 21, and will be chaired by Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin.

Minister Datuk Seri Takiyuddin Hassan | Image Credit: Malaysiakini

“All menteris besar and chief ministers will also sit in the 3pm meeting,” said Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department (Parliament and Law) Datuk Seri Takiyuddin Hassan, adding, “A full-scale MCO is among measures to be considered by the NSC and this will be discussed before any decision is made.”

Takiyuddin did note, however, that though the rising death toll was of serious concern, officials were also well aware of the fact that recoveries are also increasing, in part due to the combined efforts of the Ministry of Health, the police, and of course, the people of Malaysia.

The question on everyone’s mind now is, “Will we have to endure another total lockdown?”

This is a developing story.




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