KUALA LUMPUR -- Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin on Monday announced a fresh nationwide lockdown order with immediate effect, aiming to contain a relentless wave of COVID-19 cases.
The lockdown, which limits movements of people, is to last until June 7 and is subject to an extension, as with previous movement restrictions implemented off and on in the country since March last year.
"With a daily case count of over 4,000 cases and 37,396 active cases, [and] with 1,700 deaths reported as of May 10, Malaysia is facing a third wave of COVID-19 which could trigger a national crisis," Muhyiddin said in a statement.
The National Security Council decided on the lockdown based on several factors, including the existence of new variants believed to be more infectious, the strain on the public health system, and weak compliance with standard operating procedures.
The government is clearly reluctant to damage the economy, with Muhyiddin saying all sectors would remain open. But significant constraints are being placed on day-to-day life nonetheless: All social gatherings are banned, schools will be closed, and motorists are barred from crossing district and state lines without emergency justification.
Restaurants are not allowed to offer dine-in service, while only 30% of employers' workforces can be present at a time.
Malaysia was already under an official state of emergency. And with data suggesting that public assemblies and crowds in congested spaces are major causes of COVID-19 transmission, almost all shopping malls in the capital Kuala Lumpur, Selangor, and several other states were recently listed as risks under a system called Hotspot Identification by Dynamic Engagement (HIDE) and asked to briefly close. They are expected to reopen this week but may be asked to close again if conditions deteriorate.
"We were successful in the COVID-19 infection curve in the first and second waves of the spread," Muhyiddin said. But he warned, "I want to remind us that the third wave we are facing is more violent and critical."
He urged Malaysians to comply with the strict regulations and self-discipline if they want to see the country win the battle against the pandemic.
The lockdown comes at a time when millions of Muslim Malaysians would be preparing to celebrate Eid al-Fitr on Wednesday and Thursday. Muslims constitute about 65% of Malaysia's population of 34 million.
All told, Malaysia has logged over 440,000 coronavirus infections.