Malaysia on Sunday extended its COVID-19 curbs on people’s movements by four weeks until June 9, as the prime minister also announced a ban on interstate travel for Muslims going home to celebrate the end of Ramadan with their families.
The so-called Conditional Movement Control Order (CMCO) was to expire Tuesday, but Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin said his government needed to prolong it by another month, although Malaysian health authorities had recorded relatively smaller numbers of new cases and deaths from the coronavirus in recent days.
“Even though we have achieved many positive developments in our efforts in combating the COVID-19 pandemic, our attempts have not been fully successful. We still need to take necessary steps to combat the pandemic,” the prime minister said Sunday in a televised address to the nation.
“From the public’s perspective, I see that the overall public wants the government to continue taking necessary measures to fight the pandemic,” he said. “So with the advice from the Health Ministry and the National Security Council, I would like to announce that the CMCO, which was supposed to end on May 12, will be extended for another four weeks, until June 9.”
Muhyiddin’s announcement marked the sixth time he has extended the partial lockdown, which first began on March 18.
Last week, the government allowed most businesses to reopen under strict conditions for guarding against the spread of the virus, but schools, worship spaces, and cinema houses will remain closed under the new extension, according to the prime minister. Mass public gatherings outdoors are also still banned.
The movement restrictions had already included a ban on the mass movement of people across state lines. But the new extension prohibits Malaysians from interstate travel during the upcoming Eid al-Fitr holiday, which is two weeks away and marks the end of the Islamic fasting month of Ramadan for the country’s religious majority. This year, Eid in Malaysia falls on May 24.
In addition, Muhyiddin said, interstate travel would be banned for two other festivals scheduled during the extended period: the Kaamatan Feast and Hari Gawai, harvest festivals that take place every year, respectively, in the Malaysian Borneo states of Sabah and Sarawak.
“[I] profusely apologize, but for the sake of our collective safety and health, ‘balik kampung’ across state borders will not be allowed,” he said, referring to the traditional mass homeward migration for Eid.
However, friends, neighbors and relatives living within the same state could visit each other’s homes for Eid festivities as long as they limited such gatherings to around 20 people at a time, he said. The prime minister also reminded Malaysians to keep observing social distancing, wearing masks and washing their hands frequently to keep the virus at bay.
Reacting to the prime minister’s announcement, Afiq Ahmad, a 34-year-old trader in Selangor state, said it was necessary to keep the partial lockdown in place as long as COVID-19 cases and deaths were still occurring in the country.
“I don’t agree with allowing up to 20 people to go visiting at a time, even among neighbors or within the state,” he told BenarNews. “We wouldn’t know if there are people who are asymptomatic.”
On Sunday, Malaysia recorded 67 new COVID-19 cases and no new deaths, bringing the nationwide total of conformed cases to 6,566 with an overall death of 108. Worldwide the number of coronavirus cases has now surpassed 4 million with close to 280,000 deaths recorded, according to the latest data compiled by disease experts at Johns Hopkins University in the United States.
In Kuala Lumpur, another Malaysian expressed relief that he could still mark the end of Ramadan with relatives who lived in the same state.
“This would at least allow me to celebrate the festival at my in-laws’ house,” Ahmad Shahrir Ismail, a 35-year-old resident of the Malaysian capital who had originally planned to travel to Terengganu state for Eid, told BenarNews.
“However, I pity friends who don’t have friends or family living nearby.”
PM under pressure
Muhyiddin leads an unelected government that came to power in early March amid much controversy, which followed the collapse of the ruling Pakatan Harapan coalition led by Mahathir Mohamad.
While contending with a national crisis around the coronavirus pandemic, the new prime minister faces a potential leadership challenge on May 18, when parliament is scheduled to hold its first session since he became PM. On Friday, the house speaker announced that he had accepted a motion submitted by Mahathir seeking a no-confidence vote on Muhyiddin.
Muhiyiddin served as home minister in Mahathir’s government until he quit Pakatan to help form a new government. It includes the United Malays National Organization (UMNO), the party that had dominated Malaysian politics for 61 years but was swept out of power in the May 2018 general election.
Mahathir and Anwar Ibrahim, the newly anointed leader of the opposition, on Saturday marked the second anniversary of Pakatan’s historic victory in those polls by issuing a joint statement.
The two said they had put aside their differences in a renewed effort to bring Pakatan back to power.
“We are old, and we do not have much time left,” Mahathir and Anwar said, according to the Straits Times newspaper. “Yet our fighting spirit still burns bright in the souls of the youth who dream of reforms. It is time for us to rise again and return the people's mandate to the rightful owners.”
Earlier on during the COVID-19 crisis, Muhyiddin acknowledged that his government did not come to power via the ballot box. Muhyiddin was appointed as the country’s eighth prime minister by the king.
“This government may not be the government you voted for, but I want all of you to know that this government cares for you,” Muhyiddin told the nation in an earlier address.
“I accept the fact that I became your prime minister at a trying moment. I face political, economic and health crises all at the same time,” he said.