BY JUSTIN ONG
KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 11 — Attention will focus today on Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin’s special address on Covid-19, amid expectations that a renewed lockdown could be announced to suppress Malaysia’s runaway infection rate.
With new daily infections still above the 2,000-case mark after reaching 3,027 on Thursday and health authorities’ desperate remarks about faltering compliance with measures to slow the disease, Malaysians are bracing for the return of some form of the movement control order (MCO) that brought the country to a near-halt last March.
Malaysians will also be waiting to learn if Muhyiddin must enter what would be his third forced quarantine as a result of exposure to Covid-19, after Cabinet member Datuk Seri Mustapa Mohamed was confirmed to have contracted the disease.
The prime minister had quarantined in May after coming into close contact with a Covid-19 patient during a Cabinet meeting then and again in October after a minister tested positive following a special National Security Council briefing at the time.
Quarantine or not, Malaysians will be anxious to learn if Muhyiddin would make the drastic decision to again send some states in the country back under a lockdown.
Rumours that the MCO would return grew frenzied after drafts purporting to be of the government’s preparations and planned standard operating procedures began circulating online.
While the government has denied the authenticity of the documents, the gap between the announcement of Muhyiddin’s special address and its delivery today has provided ample time for these to amplify.
Senior Defence Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob has urged Malaysians not to believe such rumours but his remarks have also fuelled speculation, after he said the government would give Malaysians time to prepare for the impending announcement.
“Whatever the decision, it will not be enforced with immediate effect, time will be given (to prepare) perhaps two, three days or more,” the minister was quoted as saying on Saturday.
Unlike in March 2020 when much was still unknown about the pandemic and the ramifications of the MCO, the mood regarding a possible lockdown is significantly more dire now.
Both the SME Association of Malaysia and the Federation of Malaysian Manufacturers (FMM) warned last week that another lockdown could be fatal to many businesses that were still reeling from the MCO and its variants introduced last year.
Others such as former finance minister Lim Guan Eng have urged the government not to consider a lockdown unless it was accompanied by a multi-billion stimulus package to prevent the economy from collapsing entirely.
Yesterday, former Pandan MP Rafizi Ramli also expressed Malaysians’ fears and exasperation about the possible return of the MCO, describing the country as being in a “lose-lose” situation.
Acknowledging that another brutal lockdown appeared unavoidable given the rise in Covid-19 cases, Rafizi said Malaysians were nevertheless livid to see that no government leader has yet taken responsibility for the preventable predicament.
Government and political leaders could not deny their role in triggering the third wave of Covid-19 infections in Malaysia, Rafizi said before adding that things were made worse by the apparent double standard in terms of enforcing the rules to limit infections.
“Many have lost their jobs. Many more youths can’t find work. Not a single minister or politician has lost his job.
“Having failed to jumpstart the economy, now we could go into a second MCO,” he said on Facebook.
Covid-19 has become far more infectious in Malaysia during this third wave. While it took from February to September last year for the country to accumulate its first 10,000 cases, Malaysia added as many cases in the last four days alone.
Yet Health director-general Tan Sri Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah has said the current situation was far from the worst and shared a projection model that predicted as many as 8,000 new cases daily by mid-March with only a marginal increase in infectivity.
The disease has also become deadlier, having claimed 80 people already in the first 10 days of 2021 alone. From the start of the pandemic until the arrival of the third wave of infections in October, Malaysia had managed to keep the number of patients lost to below 130.
Today, the death toll is already 551.
Yesterday, Malaysia added 2,433 more Covid-19 patients for a cumulative total of 135,992 cases, of which 27,332 are active.