Malaysia declared a state of emergency on Tuesday morning, hours before millions of Malaysians returned to lockdown following an outbreak of coronavirus cases that threatened to overwhelm the country’s public health system.
A statement from the royal palace said the king accepted a declaration of emergency following a meeting with Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin on Monday due to the escalating pandemic and his pressure on the public health system . The emergency will remain in effect until August 1, or sooner if COVID-19 cases drop, the statement said.
He did not specify what the emergency would entail, although previous emergencies resulted in the suspension of parliament.
On Monday evening, Muhyiddin announced a lockdown starting at midnight (1:00 p.m. GMT) in eight states and federal territories. These include Kuala Lumpur and the states of Sabah, Selangor, Penang and Johor where the lockdown will remain in place for two weeks until January 26.
“Our hospitals are at the breaking point,” Muhyiddin said in a televised address without mentioning that he had previously requested the declaration of a state of emergency. He will give an address on the emergency at 11:00 am (03:00 GMT).
Malaysia brought a previous wave of COVID-19 under control with a strict three-month lockdown during which people were mostly barred from leaving their homes and gradually eased the brakes as cases dwindled. In July last year, authorities did not announce any new cases of local transmission.
But the situation began to change in September after an election in Borneo state of Sabah at a time when cases had already started to rise.
The election was held with coronavirus protocols in place, but the large number of campaign events and frequent travel between Sabah and the peninsula – without quarantine – helped sow epidemics elsewhere.
Movement restrictions were re-imposed in October, when Muhyiddin’s previous emergency request was rejected, but cases continued to rise as restaurants, shops and other businesses continued to operate and rules. were gradually relaxed to allow for larger trips and gatherings.
Daily cases have surpassed 2,000 since the start of the year and topped 3,000 last week. Malaysia now has more active coronavirus cases than the Philippines, and around 187 people are in intensive care and 87 people need ventilation. The 15 government hospitals designated to treat patients with COVID-19 have already filled 70% of available beds, with some intensive care units already full.
Muhyiddin formed a government in early March after a takeover led to the resignation of then Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad. He has faced constant pressure to prove his support for Parliament amid criticism of his administration’s handling of the pandemic and calls for new elections from some within the United Malaysian National Organization (UMNO ), the largest party in his ruling alliance.
Muhyiddin is currently believed to have the support of 110 members of the 222 seats.
Opposition politician Liew Chin Tong described the new lockdown as a “knee-jerk reaction” instead calling on the government to involve private health providers in the fight against the pandemic, expand testing, improve contact tracing and improve health. data transparency.
“There is no livelihood and no economic recovery if we cannot face COVID-19 decisively,” Liew said in a statement. “The dichotomy of lives versus livelihoods is wrong.
As part of the new lockdown, social gatherings will be banned, while restaurants and cafes will only be allowed to offer take-out. People in containment zones will not be able to travel more than 10 kilometers (6.21 miles) from their homes.
Five “essential” sectors of the economy, including manufacturing and construction, will be able to continue their activities under strict conditions. The Prime Minister has not announced any new initiatives to support people and businesses affected by the lockdown.
Shortly after the announcement, the Department of Health revealed that the country had identified its first case of the highly transmissible UK variant B.1.1.7.
The 22-year-old Malaysian man returned from Britain last month and was diagnosed with the variant on December 28, wrote Noor Hisham Abdullah, director general of the Department of Health on his Facebook page. Malaysia’s borders have been closed to non-Malaysians for almost a year, and all returning citizens must spend two weeks in hotel quarantine at their own expense.
Malaysia is due to receive its first shipment of vaccine – from Pfizer-BioNTech – next month and plans to vaccinate around 70 percent of the population.
Earlier Monday, he announced an agreement to purchase an additional 12.2 million doses of Pfizer’s vaccine to add to an initial order of 12.8 million doses. The country is also buying AstraZeneca’s vaccine, which is cheaper and easier to handle, and is in negotiations for vaccines produced by Russia and China. It is also part of the COVAX vaccination initiative of the World Health Organization.
As of Monday, Malaysia reported a total of 138,224 coronavirus cases and 555 deaths.