Malaysia tightens MCO as death toll climbs to 10

MoH expects further spikes in the number of infected cases within the next couple of weeks as more from the tabligh cluster come forward

by ALIFAH ZAINUDDIN  / pic by RAZAK GHAZALI

MALAYSIA has tightened its Movement Control Order (MCO) in order to contain the spread of Covid-19 with the armed forces deployed yesterday, after the total number of virus-linked deaths in the country climbed to 10.

As at press time, Malaysia reported 123 new cases, bringing the total number of cases to 1,306. Nearly two-thirds are linked to the tabligh gathering held in Sri Petaling, Kuala Lumpur, last month.

Two new deaths were recorded on Sunday — of a 48-year-old government medical officer with a recent travel history to Turkey, and a 74-year-old man from the tabligh cluster.

Forty-six cases are currently being treated in the intensive care unit (ICU), Health DG Datuk Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah said.

“We are now in the fourth phase of mitigation. We are trying to restrict public movement. If we can do that — no public gathering — there is no opportunity for the virus to transmit, which is why the public must stay at home, wash their hands and practise social distancing.

“We have a small window of opportunity to break the chain,” Dr Noor Hisham told a news conference in Putrajaya yesterday.

He expects further spikes in the number of infected cases within the next couple of weeks as more from the tabligh cluster come forward.

To date, the government has identified 9,000 people who attended the gathering.

The Health Ministry (MoH) has increased the number of beds available for Covid-19 patients, sourced ventilators from China and rehired retired nurses and specialists to provide further assistance in hospitals with high turnover rates.

The country’s capacity to identify new cases is expected to receive a boost in the coming weeks, with 16,000 tests set to be carried out per day by April, Dr Noor Hisham added.

“At the moment, we can only do 3,500 tests per day. By next week, we expect that to expand to 7,000 tests per day,” he said.

The ministry has also added 450 new ventilators on top of the 945 ventilators currently in its hospitals.

So far, 100 new ventilators have been obtained locally and 240 will be sourced from China.

The ministry has also made room for 272 ICU beds and 3,400 beds for isolation across 26 designated government hospitals.

As of noon yesterday, the Malaysian Armed Forces have been deployed to help the police enforce the MCO, which began on March 18 and is slated to end on March 31.

This came after certain people continued to defy the MCO, increasing the risk of further Covid-19 transmission in the country.

Defence Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob said the army will help patrol supermarkets to ensure the public adheres to social distancing rules during the MCO period.

“That is why we have agreed for the police and the armed forces to be deployed at supermarkets and markets to help local authorities ensure people queue and don’t go inside in groups to reduce any risk,” Ismail Sabri said

in a televised conference. Some 50,000 personnel have been deployed, including those from the armed forces, the Malaysian Volunteer Corps (Rela) and the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency, as well as officers from local authorities.

The personnel will be delegated to high-risk areas, which will be determined by a special task force led by Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Abdul Hamid Bador.

Separately, Ismail Sabri said the government will decide on a lower ceiling price for a three-ply face mask following public backlash over the decision to raise the price of the masks to RM2 from 80 sen previously.

The Finance Ministry had announced the waiver of import duty and sales tax on a list of face mask types effective today.