(Corrects figure in paragraph 7 for people vaccinated to 1.7 million, not 2.7 million)
KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) – Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin on Friday announced a nationwide “total lockdown” starting in June as coronavirus infections in the country surged to record levels.
Muhyiddin said the stricter lockdown from June 1 to 14 was for all social and economic areas, and that only essential services and economic sectors would remain in operation, which would be listed by the national security council.
The COVID-19 spread in the Southeast Asian nation in recent weeks has been more severe, partly due to highly transmissible coronavirus variants. Hospitals are also strained.
“With the latest rise in daily cases showing a drastically upward trend, hospital capacity across the country to treat COVID-19 patients are becoming limited,” Muhyiddin said in a statement.
Malaysia reported 8,290 new coronavirus cases on Friday, its fourth straight day of record infections, bringing its total to 549,514. The number of daily fatalities has also reached records, with 63 earlier this week.
It reported 61 deaths on Friday, taking the total to 2,552.
Malaysia has started its COVID-19 inoculation drive, though critics say the rollout has been slow. About 1.7 million people have received at least one dose of a vaccine as of Thursday.
Given the full closure of the economy, the finance ministry will announce a relief package for individuals and economic sectors soon, Muhyiddin said.
If Malaysia can reduce the number of cases in the first two weeks of the lockdown, the government will allow some sectors to reopen slowly over the course of next four weeks – after which all economic sectors would be allowed to operate, he said.
Malaysia has already rolled out over 300 billion ringgit ($72.60 billion) of stimulus packages since last year to cushion the impact of the pandemic on the economy.
It is also under a state of emergency since January to curb the spread of the virus, suspending parliament and essentially putting an end to political activities amid a power struggle.
Malaysia’s economy was on the path to recovery in the first quarter before infections began to spike.
It fell 5.6% in 2020, its worst annual performance since the Asian financial crisis, but the central bank had projected growth of 6%-7.5% this year.
($1 = 4.1320 ringgit)
(This story corrects figure in paragraph 7 for people vaccinated to 1.7 million, not 2.7 million)
(Reporting by Rozanna Latiff and Mei Mei Chu; writing by A. Ananthalakshmi; Editing by Martin Petty)