Tourists wearing masks pass by Petronas Twin Towers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, January 31, 2020. REUTERS/Lim Huey Teng

KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA — In view of the alarming spike in the number of daily COVID-19 cases in the country, the Malaysian government will impose a stricter movement control order (MCO) in six states starting Wednesday (13 January).

Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin in a televised address on Monday (11 January) said that the MCO will last for two weeks until 26 January.

States that will be subject to the order are Selangor, Penang, Melaka, Johor, Sabah and the nation’s capital, the Federal Territory of Kuala Lumpur — all classified as being under the “red zone”.

Under the MCO, dine-in services in restaurants and dining establishments will be prohibited. Only takeaways will be allowed.

Only essential economic sectors such as manufacturing, construction, services, distribution, agriculture and commodities are permitted to operate during the order.

Non-essential services staff will be expected to work from home — employers must comply with this ruling, said Muhyiddin.

Social activities typically involving large groups of people such as weddings, conferences, and religious processions such as for the upcoming Thaipusam celebrations are entirely prohibited.

Interstate and inter-district travel are also prohibited for states under the MCO.

Movement in states where MCO is applied is limited to a 10-kilometre radius and only two people per vehicle.

Only two people per household are allowed to go out for the purpose of buying groceries at nearby supermarkets or grocery stores.

There will be police roadblocks to ensure compliance with the regulations.

Anyone found to be in violation of the regulations will be subject to a maximum fine of RM1,000 under the Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases Act 1988 (Act 342).

Previously on 9 January, Senior Minister for Security Ismail Sabri Yaakob said that the government was expecting to enforce more stringent standard operating procedures (SOPs) instead of imposing a nationwide MCO.

He added that the people do not need to “do panic buying” as they will be “given time to prepare (for any decision)” announced by the prime minister.

One netizen on Twitter questioned on Sunday why some people have gone panic buying again.

“Have [people] forgotten that [they] could still go out when the lockdown happened back then??” They said.

Muhyiddin first announced the MCO on 16 March last year in a televised address, stating that the MCO was to be implemented from 18 March to 31 March that year.

The order, made under the Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases Act 1988 and the Police Act 1967, imposed tight border controls by prohibiting both outbound and inbound travel.

Under the initial MCO, all business premises, schools and higher learning institutions, and other forms of premises whether public or private, as well as places of worship are required to shut down during the stipulated period.

This MCO was followed by the Conditional MCO and the Recovery MCO, both of which saw the relaxation of restrictions in how public and private establishments are allowed to operate, barring a few businesses such as nightclubs which remain closed even throughout CMCO and RMCO.

Muhyiddin said today that CMCO will be implemented in Pahang, Perak, Negeri Sembilan, Kedah, Terengganu and Kelantan, while RMCO will be implemented in Perlis and Sarawak.

Those in states under the CMCO cannot have social gatherings and cannot embark on interstate travel. For states under RMCO, social gatherings are allowed with strict SOPs.

During the first MCO in March last year, all essential services such as utilities, telecommunications, postal services, transport, broadcasting, financial and banking services, and health services — among several other sectors — were set aside from the temporary shutdown requirement.

Supermarkets and other businesses selling food supplies were not subject to the shutdown requirement during the order, and they will remain exempt during the MCO period that was announced today.

Social media platforms last March were abuzz with photographs of nearly empty supermarket shelves despite Muhyiddin’s assurance that food supplies, daily essentials and healthcare — including face masks — were in “adequate” supply.

Even hours prior to the announcement at the time, TOC on 17 March observed snaking queues at one of the Selections Grocers outlets in Kuala Lumpur.

Dr Sherrini Ahmad, a consultant neurologist at Subang Jaya Medical Centre (SJMC), in a tweet on Saturday said that a “short pause with MCO is much needed to allow a better testing, tracing and isolating cases”.

Health systems and policies specialist Dr Khor Swee Kheng tweeted earlier today that MCO “should be a true “last resort” policy”.

“It buys time, but we must spend that time wisely. We cannot repeatedly use MCOs.

“If another one is imposed, we must use the time to improve every aspect of our health system,” he said.

The Malaysian Health Coalition, an apolitical coalition of Malaysian health societies and professionals, said last Friday that another MCO “will be even more damaging, on top of the current floods in several states” such as in Kelantan.

Stressing the importance a long-term strategy over short-term measures such as the MCO, the coalition suggested a “geographically targeted and short-term” form of MCO such as those carried out in several red zones should such temporary measures be necessary.

One netizen expressed their apprehension regarding another MCO, saying that they hoped that business will continue as usual and that restrictions will be limited to interstate travel, congregations in places of worship and any public gatherings.

Another netizen questioned how effective another MCO akin to the one in March last year would be in light of current circumstances where new COVID-19 cases hit an “average of 2000+ per day”.

“At least we need 3 months to reduce the figure,” they said.

One netizen tweeted that ministers’ wages and allowances should be slashed by 90 per cent for the rest of the year “regardless whether there’s MCO 2.0”. They suggested that the amount should be redirected to the people.

“Not like the ministers will be in trouble all of a sudden if that happens,” the netizen remarked.

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