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Malaysia to impose targeted lockdowns to halt infections surge

PM Muhyiddin says country cannot afford to have another nationwide lockdown, as country grapples with sharp spike in cases

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia's Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin yesterday said targeted lockdowns would be imposed in areas with high rates of coronavirus infections, as the country grapples with a sharp spike in cases over the past two weeks.

The health ministry reported 691 new cases, another new record in the wake of last month's election in the state of Sabah, from where many infections have been traced.

There were four deaths, taking the toll to 141.

"For now we are not thinking of imposing a total lockdown nationwide.

"If we do that again, it could bring down the country's economic and social systems," Mr Muhyiddin said in an address on Facebook Live from his home, where he is undergoing quarantine due to possible exposure to the virus.

Malaysia's economy saw its first contraction since the 2009 global financial crisis in the second quarter, due to strict curbs on movement and businesses.

It has so far kept a major contagion at bay, with just 13,504 infections compared with more than 300,000 in Indonesia and the Philippines.

AGGRESSIVE

Mr Muhyiddin said infections may increase as the authorities undertake aggressive screening, especially at prisons and detention centres in Kedah and Sabah states, where most cases have been found.

He said targeted lockdowns would help authorities deal with the outbreak while allowing economic and social activities to continue elsewhere, under strict health protocols.

"Whatever decision is taken, it must consider the interests of 15 million of our people in the workforce," he added.

The government is also considering proposals to shut schools in areas under lockdown, and possibly limit mass public gatherings, Mr Muhyiddin said.

He warned Malaysians, irrespective of rank, to adhere to the Covid-19 preventative measures, failing which action would be taken against them.

"Don't blame me if I take out the rotan," he said.

The government and politicians have been criticised for the soaring cases, which started after many returned from the Sabah election campaign.

Mr Muhyiddin acknowledged that this had contributed to the spike.

Thirteen ministers are under home quarantine after one minister at a high-level meeting tested positive.

Mr Muhyiddin also cited the announcement by Senior Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob over the closure of borders in Sabah, which was effective today to Oct 21.

He said he had personally decided to allow more time for the border closure to come into effect and change the enforcement date from Oct 12 to 25.

Meanwhile, Indonesia yesterday reported 4,056 new cases, bringing its total to 311,176.

The number of deaths rose by 121, the highest daily increase since Sept 30, to take the tally to 11,374.

The Philippines' health ministry yesterday confirmed 2,093 new infections and 25 more deaths, the lowest number of fatalities reported in 15 days.

The ministry said total cases have increased to 326,833, the highest in South-east Asia, while deaths have reached 5,865. - REUTERS, THE STAR

WORLD