“We have not lost the war against the Covid-19 but we have not yet won it either”, Malaysian Health Minister Noor Hisham Abdulla launched on April 3, urging the country’s 32 million residents to respect the confinement imposed since March 18. Faced with a probable explosion of new cases in the coming days, the Minister once again launched the essential measures to follow: “Everyone must break the chain of transmission of the virus. Please continue to stay at home, wash your hands and keep a social distance from others. “.
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With more than 3,000 cases and nearly 50 deaths, Malaysia is the most affected of all the countries in Southeast Asia (1).
Largest number of contamination cases in Southeast Asia
Despite the harsh measures announced on March 18 – confinement at home, closure of non-essential businesses, closure of all kindergarten schools at universities, closure of all open markets and closure of all places of worship – the Minister of Health has announced that the country could experience an increase of 1,000 new cases every day by April 15. “In this case, our hospital system would be put to the test”, he warned.
In Malaysia, there are only 15 doctors per 10,000 inhabitants and hospitals are mainly concentrated in the big cities and much less present in the states of Sabah and Sarawak, on the island of Borneo. The army has been called upon to carry out checks throughout the country, while the government claims that 90% of the population respects the rules of containment. “But 10% of offenders is not nothing”, continues to proclaim the Minister of Health, on the front line in the fight against the epidemic.
Originally a gathering in a mosque
The origin of the epidemic in Malaysia was quickly identified. It dates back to the end of February when 14,500 faithful Muslims – including 1,500 foreigners from around twenty countries including Canada, Nigeria, India, China, South Korea and Australia – gathered during three days for a ijitima (meeting) at the Sri Pataling Mosque, near the capital Kuala Lumpur, at the behest of the proselytizing current Tabligh.
According to official figures released, among the 3,000 cases to date listed throughout the country, 63% are linked to this gathering. Since then, the Sri Pataling mosque has been nicknamed in the press “The coronavirus hotspot in Southeast Asia”.
Many voices were raised to criticize the government’s slowness in enforcing containment two weeks after the religious rally. Faced with this criticism, the government has increased restrictions by reducing the opening hours of supermarkets and home delivery services. Public transport has also been reduced.
This confinement already has severe economic consequences for the country, where the informal sector concerns a large part of the population. The World Bank has predicted that Malaysian growth will only be 0.1% in 2020 against the 4.4% forecast. The economy had shrunk in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis. “Uncertainty about the outcome of the epidemic represents a major risk for the Malaysian economy”, said the World Bank.