KUALA LUMPUR: Nearly 50,000 Malaysian troops began patrolling streets, markets, border entry points and other highly populated areas on Sunday to enforce a two-week restriction on movement after the number of coronavirus cases spiked to 1,306 across the country.
Defense Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob said the measure was part of the government’s efforts to enforce the Restriction of Movement Order (RMO), which includes the setting up of a special task force comprising the police and the military.
It will soon incorporate the People’s Volunteer Corps (RELA) and the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency (APMM).
“Complying with the restrictions is very crucial,” Sabri told reporters at a press conference on Sunday, adding that nearly 50,000 personnel had been mobilized to “fully enforce” the RMO.
Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin announced the measures last Wednesday following an exponential jump in the number of infections across the country.
Sabri said: “Based on police reports, even though 90 percent of Malaysians are complying with the RMO, 10 percent (those not complying) isn’t a small number for a country of 32 million.” He added: “Many people are still unaware that the RMO has been enforced.”
Malaysia became the epicenter of the virus in the region after a mass gathering of 16,000 worshippers from Malaysia and other countries took place at the Sri Petaling Mosque in Kuala Lumpur in late February, infecting hundreds of attendees and their close contacts.
Officials say 62 percent, or 743, of the 1,306 infected patients are from the same cluster, with health authorities working round the clock to track down the rest of the attendees and screen them for the virus.
The sudden jump in infections means Malaysia now has the highest number of coronavirus cases in Southeast Asia, and the third-highest in Asia after China and South Korea.
“This is quite worrying,” MP Fahmi Fadzil told Arab News on Sunday. His constituency of Lembah Pantai has recorded one of the highest numbers of cases in Kuala Lumpur.
“The involvement of the military hasn’t caused too much misunderstanding among the population; the aim is to make sure people don’t move about,” he said, adding that most people are more compliant with the RMO now than they were before.
Detailing the measures involved, Fahmi said the Health Ministry had not provided more details of the infected areas so “people don’t have the wrong impression of these specific localities.”
He added that the public must comply with the authorities’ enforcement of the RMO, and practice social distancing and good personal hygiene.
With the death toll climbing to 10 on Sunday, several residents said they were worried that the two-week lockdown, if extended, could impact the economy and their livelihoods.
“The government must act faster to address economic issues, not only for businesses but also for the urban poor,” Fahmi said.
“I’m getting many calls and complaints, especially among daily-wage workers who have no income now.”
Joycelyn Lee, founder of the Pit Stop Community Cafe, which serves hot meals and essential food items to the urban poor, said she had seen an increase in the number of visitors.
“People need food. We saw not just our regulars but new faces, those who’ve lost their jobs, who’ve not been able to find daily work, who have limited access to regular food,” Lee, who works with a minimal number of volunteers to limit interaction, told Arab News.
“It’s a challenging time, and together with our other soup kitchen colleagues we’re working with disadvantaged communities,” she said, adding that 42 percent of her clients are above 60 years of age.
The two-week curfew has also affected people from the creative industry, including 34-year-old musician Grace Cho.
She said the means to livelihood for many musicians had been cut off as only businesses offering essential services are allowed to remain open.
“The impact is heavier on musicians and bands performing at clubs as that’s their bread and butter,” Cho told Arab News.
“We don’t have a proper system to support the creative line, thus it’s difficult for us. I can’t go out freely to meet my friends and practice our music together,” she said.
“Most musicians can’t perform outside anymore as no venue will invite any bands or musicians.”
The move, she said, has also affected her psychologically as she has not stepped out of her house since the RMO was enforced.
“I’d been working a lot before the RMO, but now I’m facing withdrawal symptoms. I constantly feel that I have nothing to do, and that makes me feel restless,” Cho said.