Malaysia reports first deaths from Covid-19 as case numbers near 700 – dpa international

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Woman selling sanitary masks in Kuala Lumpur on March 17 2020, the day before Malaysia goes into a two-week lockdown (Simon Roughneen)

Woman selling sanitary masks in Kuala Lumpur on March 17 2020, the day before Malaysia goes into a two-week lockdown (Simon Roughneen)

KUALA LUMPUR — Malaysia reported its first deaths on Tuesday evening from Covid-19, the respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Local authorities in Sarawak on the Malaysian part of island of Borneo said that a 60-year-old pastor died in hospital in Kuching, the regional capital.

Some 193 close contacts of the deceased have been put under home quarantine, the Sarawak State Secretariat Disaster Committee stated, though the source of the dead man’s infection is unknown.

By evening the national Health Ministry announced a second fatality – a 34-year-old male who was among an estimated 15,000-16,000 people who attended an Islamic ceremony held on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur at the end of last month.

The ministy also stated on Tuesday evening that the country’s confirmed coronavirus cases had jumped by 120 to 673.

Ninety-five of the new Malaysian cases are tied to the Islamic event, which has spawned dozens of cases among pilgrims in several neighbouring countries, as well as over 400 in Malaysia.

Malaysia’s virus caseload is more than twice Singapore’s 266, the second-highest in the South-East Asia region. On Monday night the Malaysian Government declared a partial lockdown of the country from Wednesday until the end of the month.

Most businesses except for shops and pharmacies will have to close from March 18-31, with restaurants and cafes permitted to provide only delivery or takeaway services. Schools and places of worship will remain closed.

Malaysians cannot leave the country and most foreigners, except for those working in “essential services,” according to a clarification issued by the government on Tuesday, cannot enter.

Neighbouring Singapore has banned travel or transit from hard-hit countries such as France, Germany, Italy, Spain and is requiring visitors from Southeast Asia to present a health certificate for approval prior to entry.

Singapore exempted from its curbs the 300,000 or so Malaysians who cross into Singapore every day for work, but Malaysia is barring its nationals from commuting across the frontier.

Singapore’s Manpower Minister Josephine Teo said on Tuesday that businesses would receive 50 Singapore dollars per night for each commuter staff member who opted to remain Singapore ahead of the Malaysian shutdown.

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