Malaysia’s Covid-19 deaths up to eight as caseload nears 1,200 – dpa international

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Woman walks past a restaurant in Kuala Lumpur after the government imposed a 2-week anti-virus lockdown on March 18 (Simon Roughneen)

Woman walks past a restaurant in Kuala Lumpur after the government imposed a 2-week anti-virus lockdown on March 18 (Simon Roughneen)

KUALA LUMPUR — Malaysia’s coronavirus deaths jumped to eight on Saturday, officials announced, as the number of cases in the country rose by 153 to 1,183.

The Health Ministry stated that two of those who died on Saturday had attended an Islamic ceremony staged in Kuala Lumpur’s outskirts in late February along with an estimated 15,000 others.

Later Saturday, local authorities in Sarawak – part of the Malaysian-governed stretch of Borneo island – announced that a 79-year-old woman and her 40-year-old daugher had died in hospital in the state capital Kuching.

The Health Ministry said that 90 of the new diagnoses of Covid-19, the respiratory disease caused by coronavirus, are linked to the Islamic ceremony, which drew an estimated 1,500 worshippers from abroad.

The event has spawned dozens of cases across the region – in Brunei, Cambodia, Singapore and Thailand – as well as hundreds in Malaysia. Three of Malaysia’s six dead attended the event, which health officials fear could prove the source of a “tsunami” of cases.

The Health Ministry said on Saturday it is collaborating with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and several Islamic organizations in tracking an unknown number of Rohingya, a mostly Muslim minority from Myanmar, who attended the event.

Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya have fled persecution in Myanmar, often running a gauntlet of stormy seas and people smugglers to begin a life in legal limbo in Malaysia, where refugees are classed as illegal immigrants.

Malaysian officials have pleaded with those who attended the event to come forward for testing. The Myanmar Ethnic Rohingya Human Rights Organization Malaysia (MERHROM), a non-governmental organization, stated on Friday that many Rohingya are reluctant to be tested for Covid-19, as they fear they will be arrested.

Malaysia’s coronavirus case numbers have surged from 238 one week ago and now represent the third-highest figure in the Asia-Pacific region after China and South Korea.

The surge prompted a government-imposed lockdown and border closures that started on Wednesday and will see the army on the streets from tomorrow to back up police patrols.

Most business are closed except for shops and pharmacies, while schools, places of worship and most offices have been shuttered.

Movement is restricted in most cases to buying “essential goods” and only “essential services” such as banks and utilities are operating.

Since the measures were announced on Monday, Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin has repeatedly implored Malaysians to “just stay at home,” after police complained that people were outdoors or travelling unnecessarily.

The lockdown announcement caused confusion in many sectors, with hotels only receiving confirmation on Wednesday that they could remain open.

After first banning Malaysians from leaving the country until the end of the month, the government stated on Friday that those with jobs abroad could depart, after the announcement threatened to strand around 300,000 people who commute south into Singapore every day for work.

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