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Malaysia to ease lockdown early to stanch economic bleeding

Muhyiddin laments $550m daily losses but keeps some restrictions in place

Firefighters spray disinfectant on a Kuala Lumpur street during Malaysia's lockdown.   © Reuters

KUALA LUMPUR -- Malaysia on Friday announced that most businesses will be allowed to reopen on Monday -- with some notable exceptions -- after a six-week nationwide lockdown that slammed the brakes on the economy.

Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin said the restrictions will be lifted now that the daily rise in new coronavirus cases has been held to double-digits over the past two weeks. The extended lockdown was to run until May 12.

In total, the country had recorded 6,002 infections as of Thursday afternoon, with 102 deaths.

In a televised Labor Day speech, Muhyiddin acknowledged that the movement control order had affected the Malaysian economy deeply, even with aggressive government intervention. “I would like to stress that our country has lost around 2.4 billion ringgit ($558.4 million)" per day, the prime minister said. "To date, the total loss is estimated at about 63 billion ringgit, and if the movement order is extended by another month, we stand to lose another 35 billion ringgit."

The premier also stressed the importance of avoiding a spike in cases after easing the rules, however.

Come Monday, almost all economic sectors can resume with stringent health precautions in place. But some businesses -- cinemas, leisure clubs and theme parks, for example -- will have to remain closed.

Sports competitions will be prohibited unless they can be held outdoors with no audience. Large gatherings, including weddings and social events, will remain restricted while schools and universities will also stay closed for the time being.

Malaysia first imposed a two-week lockdown on March 18, followed by two extensions of two weeks each.

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