By Muzliza Mustafa, Nisha David and Ronna Nirmala
Malaysian soldiers will assist the police in enforcing a government order for people to stay at home, the nation’s defense chief said Friday, as the king urged residents to cooperate with authorities amid confirmations that COVID-19 infections had surged past 1,000.
Kuala Lumpur ramped up its restrictions while authorities in neighboring Jakarta warned that 700,000 people were at risk of contracting the coronavirus in Indonesia, Southeast Asia’s largest economy.
“The military will be deployed beginning this Sunday,” Malaysian Defense Minister Ismail Sabri told reporters. “So, we are confident that with the help from the military, the control order would be enforced better.”
The pandemic has so far killed more than 11,200 people and infected more than 259,000 others, according to data compiled by infectious disease experts at Johns Hopkins University in the United States.
On Friday, Malaysia reported its third COVID-19 death, a 58-year-old man who attended a Muslim gathering held at the end of February at the Sri Petaling mosque outside Kuala Lumpur. One of its other two deaths was linked to the event.
About 16,000 people attended the gathering, which has emerged as a source of coronavirus infections in Brunei, Cambodia, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam and Indonesia.
The Philippines, which has confirmed 230 cases and 18 deaths, has reported one death related to the religious meeting. Manila’s health authorities there said they were tracking more than 200 Filipino Muslim elders who had traveled to the gathering.
In a brief statement broadcast live on national television, Malaysian King Al-Sultan Abdullah Ri’ayatuddin Al-Mustafa Billah urged the public to obey the government’s Movement Control Order imposed to address the pandemic.
“Do not leave home if there are no pressing matters; do not return to your hometown unless it is an emergency,” he said.
“We are facing a serious threat from the outbreak of COVID-19,” he said, urging citizens not to engage in panic-buying.
Malaysia has overtaken Japan to become the Asian country with the third highest number of cases, after China and South Korea, according to Johns Hopkins University data.
Health authorities in Kuala Lumpur confirmed 130 new infections on Friday, bringing the nation’s tally to 1,030. They said more than 600 people, including 48 of the new cases, were linked to the Tablighi Jamaat gathering of Muslims from Feb. 27 to March 1.
Meanwhile, Indonesia on Friday spotlighted the pandemic’s damage to the global economy, which is already in recession.
Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati warned that the world’s largest Muslim-majority nation could experience zero growth if the coronavirus outbreak is not contained quickly.
“If COVID-19 lasts more than three to six months, lockdowns are imposed and international trade falls and flights are reduced by 75 percent to 100 percent, economic growth could drop 2.5 percent to 0 percent,” she told reporters.
Indonesia will re-allocate 62.3 trillion rupiah (U.S. $3.9 billion) from the 2020 budget to tackle the pandemic, Sri Mulyani said, underscoring that most of the funds will focus on health care and financial incentives for businesses.
President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo said the government has started ramping up coronavirus testing on Friday.
“Rapid testing is being carried out today for the purpose of contact tracing. Health workers are going door-to-door to carry out tests,” Jokowi told reporters.
The Health Ministry said the number of confirmed Covid-19 cases rose to 369 as of Friday, with fatalities at 32.
Seventeen people have fully recovered, ministry spokesman Achmad Yurianto said.
Yurianto said the ministry estimates that up to 700,000 people were most at risk of contracting the virus and the government was preparing 1 million testing kits.
“We are preparing mass testing for those who’ve had contact with people who have tested positive,” he said. “But not everyone will be tested.”
Jakarta Gov. Anies Baswedan declared the coronavirus outbreak an emergency on Friday.
“This emergency period will be in place for 14 days and can be extended depending on the situation,” he said, as he ordered entertainment centers, nightspots and cinemas to be closed starting March 23 and announced temporary reductions in public transportation services.
The city administration already closed schools and theme parks this week and urged employees to allow people to work from home.
On Friday, the imam of the Istiqlal grand mosque in Jakarta announced that there would be no congregation prayers, including Friday services, for two weeks.
The pandemic has sent global financial markets into a tailspin, but Indonesia’s mom-and-pop businesses have also been hit.
Joni Yanto, an app-based motorcycle taxi driver, told BenarNews that he had received only three orders to deliver food on Friday, but no passengers.
“Now most people only order food or groceries, while passengers are increasingly rare,” Joni said.
Food and grocery deliveries take more time than driving people to specific destinations, according to Igun Wicaksono, chairman of the Motorcycle Taxi Association.
Igun said orders had fallen 50 percent since people in the greater Jakarta area began working from home as part of social distancing on Monday.
“Orders have dropped dramatically, especially during rush-hour or at night,” Igun told BenarNews.
Bangladesh assigns army
As COVID-19 forced many countries to adopt tough measures, including lockdowns, Bangladesh officials decided to assign the army to help combat the pandemic.
The country, which has 20 confirmed cases of infections, announced its first coronavirus-related death on Wednesday.
Bangladeshi Health Minister Zahid Malik told reporters on Thursday that the army will be used to help impose lockdowns and build special quarantine facilities on the outskirts of Dhaka.
“We’re planning to lock areas vulnerable as infection rates climb,” Malik said.