Malaysia PM Seeks Balance as Economy Reels From Virus Curbs

Struggling with elevated numbers of Covid-19 cases, Malaysia’s government is trying to strike a balance that will protect lives while ensuring that economic activity can continue, Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin said Thursday.

While a total lockdown would be the best way to control the surge in cases, that would have negative repercussions for the economy, Muhyiddin said in the televised address. Instead, tighter protocols -- known as Standard Operating Procedures, or SOP -- will be imposed while essential businesses continue to operate.

“The government listens to your views by not shutting down the economy during the Movement Control Order period,” Muhyiddin said. “So please reciprocate this gesture by complying strictly with the SOPs so that we can ensure business and trade will continue to operate, while at the same time helping break the chain of Covid-19 transmission at the workplace and in the community.”

Movement Control Orders, Malaysia’s strictest form of lockdown, are in force in all but one state and will continue until Feb. 18.

Still, the government will allow car-wash services, hair salons and night markets to reopen starting Friday, Defense Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob said in a separate briefing on Thursday. The government is studying whether to allow more businesses to operate throughout the MCO period as well, he said.

Here are key points from the prime minister’s address:

  • Repeat offenders of health protocols will face higher fines and possible imprisonment
  • The government is working with 31 private hospitals to treat non-Covid patients, easing pressure on government-run hospitals burdened with Covid cases. The government will compensate owners whose premises are used as Covid screening centers
  • Malaysia will begin a nationwide vaccine rollout by the end of this month. The aim is for 80% of population to get free vaccine
  • The first phase of vaccinations, which will last until April, will focus on inoculating 500,000 frontline workers, followed by the elderly and high-risk groups between April and August. The third leg of the program will run from May through next February to immunize those age 18 and above
  • Muhyiddin said he will advise the king to dissolve parliament after the virus is brought under control

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