KUALA LUMPUR – Malaysia’s health chief on Saturday (April 11) warned against easing measures that curb the coronavirus outbreak, after the government said it would allow some industries to operate during the country’s partial shutdown.
The movement control order (MCO) has shut schools and non-essential businesses, confined people to their homes except to buy food, and closed Malaysia’s borders to tourists since March 18.
In a move to cushion the economic impact of the shutdown, the government said on Friday the controls, which were due to end Tuesday, would be extended to April 28, but that some businesses could resume work.
While the announcement was cheered by business owners and workers, the health authorities were less enthusiastic.
“The health ministry’s recommendation is that we should maintain what we had done in MCO phase 1 and phase 2,” said the Director-General of Health Noor Hisham Abdullah at his daily press briefing on Saturday, referring to the first four weeks of the MCO. Phase 3 will be in force from April 15 to 28.
“Perhaps the planning can be done but implementation be delayed at this moment,” he said, with regards to some businesses being allowed to reopen.
His remarks came as Malaysia continued to see the number of coronavirus infections rise, with 184 new infections recorded on Saturday. This brought the number of confirmed cases to 4,530, the highest tally in South-east Asia. The country has reported 73 deaths, and 1,995 recoveries.
The Ministry of International Trade and Industry had on Friday listed sectors that would be allowed to operate under phase 3 of the MCO, including the automotive, machinery and equipment, aerospace and construction industries.
Meanwhile smaller businesses such as barbers, opticians, full laundry services, traditional health practitioners, and hardware and electrical appliances stores were also given the green light to reopen.
SME Association of Malaysia’s president Michael Kang lauded the move but was concerned that the procedures to reopen businesses had yet to be finalised.
“We hope the government provides a clear policy (on resumption of businesses),” Datuk Kang said.
Meanwhile the administration has yet to issue guidelines to these businesses on safety procedures to lower the risks of infection, especially at service providers like barbers and opticians where people are in close proximity in enclosed spaces.
Online community Public Health Malaysia has advised on its Facebook page that business operators should ensure they are free of symptoms such as fever and cough, disinfect their premises daily and keep it well-ventilated, and screen their customers for symptoms.
Meanwhile the state governments of Penang and Negeri Sembilan said they are not allowing hair salons to reopen unless standard operating procedures are provided by the federal government.