Staff at a supermarket check-out in Kuala Lumpur, one of the types of businesses open during Malaysia's lockdown (Simon Roughneen)
Staff at a supermarket check-out in Kuala Lumpur, one of the types of businesses open during Malaysia’s lockdown (Simon Roughneen)

KUALA LUMPUR — Malaysia’s Health Ministry reported 208 new coronavirus cases on Thursday evening, taking the country’s total to 3,116, the highest in South-East Asia.

The ministry acknowledged that Thursday’s rebound marked a setback after numbers earlier this week dropped from the more than 200 new daily cases seen last week.

“We cannot expect zero cases of Covid infection in this country,” said ministry Director-General Noor Hisham Abdullah, during a televised press conference.

Fifty people have died in Malaysia after being infected with Covid-19, the disease caused by the virus.

Though Hisham expressed disappointment at the jump in cases from Wednesday’s 142, he said that 122 people were discharged from hospital on Thursday.

Thursday’s numbers took Malaysia’s total recoveries from Covid-19 to 767.

The rising number of recoveries shows “there is significant impact of the MCO [Movement Control Order] in the rate of new patients as well as flattening of the curve,” the ministry stated on Wednesday.

Malaysia’s MCO was announced on March 16 – in the middle of the surge in cases from just 33 one month ago.

Defence Minister Ismail Sabri Yaacob said earlier on Thursday that 4,189 people had been arrested for violating the terms of the lockdown, which permits people to only leave home for essential journeys such as commuting to work or shopping.

Among those arrested were four men described as “joyriders,” who could face three months in jail after being stopped by police during a late-night drive around Kuala Lumpur on March 29.

On Thursday, a court in the city sentenced the men to one week in jail, a punishment that will stretch to three months if the accused do not pay a 1,000-ringgit (232-dollar) fine.

The case is one of several lockdown breaches that have caused tongues to wag and eyes to roll across Malaysia.

Also on Thursday, 23 Catholic seminarians and a priest pleaded guilty to violating the lockdown by playing football in George Town, in Malaysia’s north.

In Sarawak, in the Malaysian part of Borneo island, a 14-year-old boy triggered a frantic search operation after disappearing into the jungle on Monday.
After returning home of his own accord on Wednesday night, the boy said he went for a walk because the lockdown left him bored, according to the local fire department.
Elsewhere in Malaysian Borneo, a father and son were arrested on Wednesday night on charges of violating the lockdown and selling smuggled cigarettes.

As Malaysia’s caseload rose during mid-March, the government repeatedly warned citizens they could face a “tsunami” of infection if they did not stick to the lockdown rules and  “duduk rumah” – or “stay at home.”

The World Health Organization (WHO) has warned that Malaysia’s caseload could peak in mid-April, when the lockdown is due to end.

Defence Minister Ismail said on Thursday that the Health Ministry will decide if the lockdown needs to be extended beyond April 14.

Soldiers have joined police in patrolling the lockdown, which has grown more stringent by the day since being imposed, with a ban on movement beyond a 10-kilometre range added on Wednesday.

Follow us on Twitter