Malaysia warned its citizens of a new wave of coronavirus infections if they did not follow movement restrictions after cases in the country spiked to the highest in Southeast Asia.
It has so far reported two coronavirus deaths, including a man who attended a mass Muslim gathering linked to about two-thirds of the country’s 673 infections. Thousands of those who attended have yet to be tested, raising the risk of a wider spread of the virus.
“We have a slim chance to break the chain of Covid-19 infections,” Noor Hisham Abdullah, director general of Health Malaysia, said in a Facebook post.
“Failure is not an option here. If not, we may face a third wave of this virus, which would be greater than a tsunami, if we maintain a ‘So what?’ attitude.”
Restrictions on movement were imposed on Wednesday and will last for a fortnight.
The causeway that connects the country’s southernmost state to the financial hub of Singapore was eerily quiet after Malaysia shut its borders.
The government of Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, who took office only this month, has said there is enough stock of essentials for the country’s 32 million people.
Restrictions on travel are expected to hit Singapore businesses, which employ about 300,000 Malaysians who commute from across the Straits of Johor.
Malaysia and the Philippines, which has quarantined about half of its 107 million population, have imposed the toughest restrictions on movements of people in Southeast Asia, causing early confusion and chaos, though capital markets in both countries will stay open.
The Philippines backed down on an order giving foreigners 72 hours to leave a large part of Luzon, its largest island.
Hours before the movement curbs kicked in at midnight in Malaysia, thousands of people queued at bus stations to go back to their home towns. Hordes of Malaysians who commute daily to Singapore for work crossed the border to spend the next two weeks there.
Roads in the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur, normally some of the most congested in Southeast Asia on weekdays, were largely clear on Wednesday morning. Some cafes and restaurants opened, but customers were allowed only takeaway food.
Big supermarket chains such as Mydin put in measures including special shopping slots and cashier lanes for elderly and disabled people.
It also limited the purchases of staples such as rice, flour, cooking oil, hand sanitiser and disinfectant.