PUTRAJAYA – Malaysia will decide next week whether its two-week restricted movement order (RMO) to contain the coronavirus outbreak needs to be extended beyond the end of the month, as the country reported its biggest daily jump in infections on Monday (March 23).
The government will also unveil a second stimulus package in as many months, as it seeks to contain the economic fallout of both the global pandemic and tanking oil prices.
Malaysia saw 212 new infections on Monday, the biggest daily increase which brought the total cases to 1,518, the health ministry said. The death toll from the coronavirus rose to 14.
Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin said on Monday that the National Security Council – which he chairs – will meet on March 30 to decide based on whether “figures and data show a reduction” in infections from the current trend.
“We will study and announce whether two weeks is sufficient or we will extend (the RMO) for a week or two from March 31,” he told a press conference.
The government announced nationwide curbs last Monday after 190 new infections were detected the previous day, nearly doubling the number of existing cases to 428.
Since the RMO was imposed last Wednesday, Malaysia has managed to avoid an exponential increase as seen in some other countries, which the Prime Minister said “likely shows the order has positive results”.
But new cases continue to number over 100 daily and the past week has seen the first 14 deaths recorded in Malaysia due to Covid-19.
Several experts have said the March 18-31 restriction – which mandated the closure of most commercial activities and border closures – needs to be extended by up to two months.
But a week in, the economic impact of the RMO has already been sorely felt. Coupled with oil prices hitting their lowest in 17 years – fossil fuel-linked sectors make up a fifth of Malaysia’s gross domestic product – there are growing fears that over a million employees could end up jobless from the shutdown.
Tan Sri Muhyiddin said a comprehensive stimulus package – following on an initial RM20 billion (S$6.56 billion) already launched last month – will be unveiled next Monday.
In the meantime, he announced that about 12 million workers aged below 55 would be allowed to withdraw RM500 monthly for the next year from their Employees Provident Fund accounts. The government estimates that this will release about RM40 billion of funds in stages beginning next month.
Another RM500 million will be injected into the health ministry to procure the necessary equipment to fight the coronavirus, and an additional RM100 million will be available to hire up to 2,000 contract healthcare workers.
The premier, speaking after the weekly Economic Action Council meeting, also revealed RM130 million will be divided equally among Malaysia’s 13 states to aid small traders, Covid-19 victims and front liners in the fight against the virus.
The deferment of student loans under the government’s Higher Education Fund has also been extended to six months from three months.