Malaysian army called in to support lockdown as cases top 1,000 – dpa international


Hand sanitser sold out inside a pharnacy in Kuala Lumpur (Simon Roughneen)

Hand sanitser sold out inside a pharnacy in Kuala Lumpur (Simon Roughneen)

KUALA LUMPUR — Malaysia announced 130 new positive coronavirus diagnoses on Friday, taking the country’s total to 1,030 as the the government mobilized the army to help enforce social restrictions.

Forty-eight of the new cases have been linked to an Islamic ceremony held in late February that was attended by an estimated 15,000 people, the Health Ministry said.

The gathering has largely been the source of Malaysia’s huge surge in cases from one week ago, when the tally was 197.

Malaysia now has the third-highest caseload in the Asia-Pacific region, after China – where the pandemic originated in late 2019 – and South Korea.

Attempting to staunch the rise, the Malaysian government on Wednesday imposed movement restrictions, closed the border to almost all visitors and forced most business to close except for “essential services” such as grocery shops and pharmacies.

Malaysia’s military will from Sunday join police in patrolling the lockdown.

The Defence Ministry stated on Friday that “the army will help police monitor the situation to ensure that the people obey the movement control order.”

The government had earlier warned people against venturing outdoors unless buying essential goods but police chiefs complained that people were moving around – despite Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin’s repeated appeals to “just stay indoors.”

The Health Ministry warned that of a possible “tsunami” of new cases should the lockdown fail to slow the rise in cases, most of which have been traced to the Islamic ceremony, which was held on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia’s biggest city.

With 1,500 foreign visitors among the attendees, the event also spawned dozens of cases in Brunei, Cambodia, Thailand and Singapore. Organizers were belatedly blocked from hosting a similar gathering on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi earlier this week.

Officials estimate that around 4,000 people who attended the Malaysian event have not come forward for testing, including several hundred Rohingya, a mostly-Muslim ethnic minority from Myanmar.

The Rohingya who attended the event likely had fled persecution in Myanmar – described by the United Nations as “genocide” – to a legal limbo in Malaysia, where most refugees are deemed illegal migrants.

The Myanmar Ethnic Rohingya Human Rights Organization Malaysia (MERHROM) said it was trying to persuade people to get tested but said “many of them afraid to go out due to government order and fear of arrest.”

Two Malaysians died from coronavirus earlier this week, including a 34-year-old man who attended the late February ceremony.

Former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad, 94, is self-quarantining for 14 days – the estimated maximum incubation period for Covid-19 – after possible exposure.

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