Malaysia announced on March 16 a drastic two-week lockdown in the country to slow the spread of the new coronavirus following a sharp spike in the number of cases.
"All religious institutions, schools, businesses and government offices will be shut from March 18 until March 31. All mass gatherings will be banned and only essential services including supermarkets, banks, gas stations and pharmacies will be allowed to stay open," said Prime Minister Muhyiddini Yassin, ABC News reported.
He said Malaysians will not be allowed to travel overseas, and all foreign visitors will be banned. All Malaysians returning from overseas will have to self-quarantine for 14 days.
The country will also bar people from crossing its border with Singapore as part of travel curbs that will take effect from March 18 until March 31 to rein in the spread of a coronavirus, a news website today, Reuters reported.
"Not allowed from tomorrow until March 31," the website, Malaysiakini, quoted the southeast Asian nation's director-general of immigration, Khairul Dzaimee Daud, as saying.
Malaysia is a key source of staples for Singapore, which imports more than 90% of its food supplies. Tens of thousands of Malaysians commute daily to the wealthy city-state to work in businesses from restaurants to semiconductor manufacturing.
The country recorded 315 new cases of the virus in the past two days, causing its total to surge to 553, the highest number in Southeast Asia. Many of the new cases are linked to a recent 16,000-member religious gathering at a mosque in a Kuala Lumpur suburb that also sickened dozens from Brunei and Singapore.
Fears of a lockdown have prompted panic buying at many shops and supermarkets across the nation.
The Malaysian PM said in a televised message late on March 16 that the measures, under the Restriction of Movement Order, are needed to prevent the outbreak from worsening. He urged Malaysians to stay calm, saying there would be a sufficient supply of food and adequate health care, including masks for everyone.
"We cannot wait until the situation deteriorates. Drastic moves are needed immediately to restrict public movement and curb the spread of the virus," he said.
Just hours earlier, Muhyiddin announced additional financial aid to help the poor cope, including cash handout for about 33,000 workers on unpaid leave, discounts on electricity bills for six months and early payments of cash aid to low-income families. The government earlier unveiled a 20 billion ringgit ($4.7 billion) stimulus program to bolster the economy.
While the virus can be deadly, particularly for the elderly and people with other health problems, for most people it causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. Some feel no symptoms at all and the vast majority of people recover.