KUALA LUMPUR • Malaysia is facing its worst coronavirus outbreak since the pandemic began over a year ago, even though as recently as two months ago, much of the country thought that the worst had passed as the number of new cases moderated after a surge at the start of this year.
Following the year’s low of 941 cases recorded at the end of March, the country faced a sharp spike in cases at the start of this month, with infections hitting record highs for the fifth day in a row yesterday.
Malaysia recorded 9,020 cases – the highest on record – and also logged 98 deaths yesterday. This was by far the deadliest day for the country since the pandemic began.
The country’s deadliest surge is the result of a combination of both internal and external factors, coupled with a delay in its vaccine supply that has pushed back initial vaccination schedule targets.
Malaysia came out of a second lockdown in end-February, and with infections showing signs of slowing, the authorities reopened much of the economy and schools in early March.
By last month, clusters began emerging from schools.
And then there was the decision by the authorities to allow the operation of food bazaars during the Ramadan fasting month that started in the middle of last month.
Pictures of poor social distancing at these Ramadan bazaars circulated online, coinciding with an uptick in cases.
With cases continuing to rise throughout the fasting month, the authorities implemented a stricter movement control order (MCO) in Selangor and Kuala Lumpur – the country’s two most populated regions – in the first week of this month, just a week before Hari Raya Aidilfitri celebrations.
But it was too late, as seen by a surge in the number of hospitalisations and deaths.
By that time, various variants of the virus had started to spread in the country.
Covid-19 deaths began hitting double digits at the beginning of this month.
Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, caught between the need to save lives and to save livelihoods, announced a third nationwide MCO since the pandemic began, from May 12 until June 7.
But he left almost the entire economic sector open, though malls and shops must close two hours earlier, and dining in is banned.
His top health official, Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah, warned of “a vertical surge” in infections last week, forcing the government to decide on a “full lockdown” and shutting down most economic activities including those at malls, factories and offices.
Dubbed MCO 3.0, the country’s third attempt to tame the virus by halting most activities will take place for two weeks from Tuesday until June 14.