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Malaysia arrests nearly 700 people for violating coronavirus lockdown

In Thailand, prisoners riot after outbreak rumours spread as number of coronavirus cases and deaths in South-east Asia continue to rise

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia this week arrested nearly 700 people for violating restrictions aimed at stemming the spread of coronavirus, a senior minister said yesterday, amid a spike in the number of deaths linked to the outbreak.

The death toll rose from 27 to 34 within a 24-hour period, the biggest daily rise so far, while the number of reported cases was up to 2,470, the highest in South-east Asia.

Malaysia has closed schools and non-essential businesses, and imposed restrictions on travel and movement until April 14.

Defence Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob told reporters 649 people were detained on Saturday.

This was in addition to 614 people arrested since movement curbs started on March 18.

"Some people gave the excuse that they were just going out to buy food," Ismail said.

"But they were caught outside up to four times a day, to the point (where) police recognised their faces... Clearly, they were not being genuine."

Those who flout the restriction of movement order can be fined or jailed for up to six months.

RIOT IN JAIL

In Thailand, dozens of prisoners broke furniture and smashed windows during a riot in a jail yesterday, sparked by fears of a coronavirus outbreak in the facility.

During the violence, some convicts escaped from the Buriram prison where 2,000 are held, the Justice Ministry said. Seven have been arrested.

"There was a group of prisoners trying to escape and were creating chaos... which included burning down some facilities inside," said Mr Narat Sawetana, director general of the Corrections Department.

Justice Minister Somsak Thepsutin confirmed that a group of inmates sentenced to life had started "agitating" other prisoners with rumours of a virus outbreak.

"The fact is that none of the prisoners in Buriram were infected - they started this rumour only to find some supporters," the minister said.

Thailand has 143 new cases, bringing the total to 1,388. There was one new death, taking the toll to seven.

The Philippine Health Department yesterday reported 343 new coronavirus cases, marking the country's largest daily increase in infections, and three additional deaths.

That raised the total number of known infections in the country to 1,418, while the death toll has reached 71, it said.

In Indonesia, doctors, politicians and human rights commissioners are calling on the government to enact tighter movement restrictions as the death toll from coronavirus rose yesterday in the world's fourth most populous country, which has resisted lockdowns.

It has 130 new cases, taking the total to 1,285. Twelve more people have died, bringing the toll to 144, the highest in Southeast Asia.

A hashtag that translates as #LockdownOrDie was trending on social media over the weekend. - REUTERS, AFP

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