KUALA LUMPUR — Malaysia has arrested at least 1,100 people for violating a lockdown aimed at curbing a recent spike in coronavirus cases to 2,626, the highest reported national total in Southeast Asia.
During a Monday press conference streamed via Facebook, Defence Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob said that 828 people were detained on Sunday for breaching movement restrictions imposed on March 18.
Police had earlier announced over 300 arrests for alleged violations such as jogging and playing football.
One suspect, a 61-year-old cardiologist, told police that running should be permitted for health reasons. A video of the encounter went viral on Malaysian social media last week ahad of the accused pleading not guilty in court on Monday.
Giving notice of further restrictions aimed at halting the spread of Covid-19, the respiratory disease caused by the new coronavirus pandemic that has killed almost 35,000 worldwide, Ismail said Malaysia’s shops will reduce operating hours from Wednesday
“All supermarkets or any premises selling essential items shall observe the new operation hours, which is from 8am to 8pm,” the minister said.
Malaysia’s lockdown was announced on March 16 as confirmed cases of the virus climbed to 553 from less than 100 a week before.
The curbs, which were imposed two days later and will run until April 14, include closing borders and most businesses. The government has repeatedly warned people to “duduk rumah”, or stay at home – unless venturing out to shops, markets, pharmacies or other purveyors of essential goods.
Restaurants are permitted to operate, but only as take-away or delivery outlets. Though some taxis still ply their trade and employees in permitted sectors such as banks and utilities drive to and from work, most of Kuala Lumpur’s sparse lockdown traffic is comprised of food delivery couriers, their day-glo logos and helmets a garish blur as they hare around Kuala Lumpur’s otherwise funereal streets.
Ismail, the defence minister, used his Monday press conference to dispense some “social distancing” counsel, suggesting that couriers should leave deliveries at customers’ doors.
“We should try to avoid contact with other people, in order to reduce the chances of spreading the virus,” he said.
On Monday evening the Health Ministry stated that two more people had died after contracting Covid-19, taking Malaysia’s death toll to 37.
The ministry reported that although almost 500 of Malaysia’s confirmed cases had recovered, 94 others were receiving intensive care.
Around half of Malaysia’s confirmed Covid-19 diagnoses have been traced to an Islamic ceremony held in Kuala Lumpur’s outskirts in late February that was attended by an estimated 15,000 people and spawned cases in several neighbouring countries.
The event was staged during a week of political turmoil that left Malaysia without a government until the swearing-in of Muhyiddin Yassin as prime minister on March 1, when the country had 29 confirmed Covid-19 cases.
Officials have claimed that unless Malaysians stick to the lockdown rules, the country’s caseload could hit 6,000 by mid-April.
Aided by drones conducting aerial patrols, soldiers have joined police in manning more than 1,500 roadblocks and checkpoints aimed at enforcing the restrictions.
“The second phase [of the lockdown] will see an increase from the aspect of roadblocks and checking on the movement of people,” Ismail said.
Speaking at a separate press conference, Health Ministry Director-General Noor Hisham Abdullah said it is “too early to say” if Malaysia’s lockdown will end on April 14 as scheduled. “We will only know after the first week of April” he said,Show