KUALA LUMPUR -- Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin on Wednesday extended his country's coronavirus lockdown by two weeks from the initial cutoff point at the end of this month, with cases continuing to rise by the hundreds each day.
In a live televised address, Muhyiddin said the extension until April 14 was to prevent direct human contact that could accelerate second and subsequent waves of infections. The country recorded 172 new cases on Wednesday, bringing the total to 1,796 with 17 deaths.
"I was briefed by the National Security Council that we can see a higher number of new cases if we don't act quickly," Muhyiddin said. "The trend of new positive COVID-19 cases is still happening, and the trend is expected to continue for some time until it starts to decline.
"This demands the government to extend the Movement Control Order for a longer period."
Malaysia imposed the original lockdown only a week ago. The impact quickly rippled into neighboring Singapore, where the government was forced to help businesses that employ Malaysian commuters and reassure the public that there would be no shortages of food imported across the border.
This time, Muhyiddin did not rule out the possibility of the lockdown being extended further, beyond April 14.
"The Movement Control Order will be reviewed from time to time," he said. "If there is a necessity to be extended again, I will make the announcement, but what's more important is that you [Malaysians] must be ready to stay longer at home."
To ease mounting financial pressures, the prime minister also announced a six-month automatic moratorium on monthly installment repayments on loans taken out by individuals and small or midsize enterprises.
The government is expected to unveil a second economic stimulus package on Friday, on top of the $4.8 billion plan and other relief measures already announced.