Malaysia imposes near-total lockdown as COVID-19 cases soar

Soldier outside suspected COVID-19 hot spot
A soldier stands guard outside a high-rise suspected of being a COVID-19 hot spot.
(Vincent Thian / Associated Press)

Malaysia’s prime minister Friday announced a near-total coronavirus lockdown in the country, with social and economic activities to be halted for two weeks to contain a worsening outbreak.

Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin said the decision to implement the lockdown starting Tuesday came after daily new infections surpassed 8,000 for the first time Friday, sparking fears that the disease could spiral out of control.

The government earlier this month imposed a partial lockdown until June 7, stopping short of shutting down businesses to prevent a possible economic catastrophe. But new coronavirus infections have climbed since the recent Muslim Eid festival, crossing 6,000 on May 19 for the first time and soaring to 8,290 on Friday.


This raised the country’s cumulative caseload to 549,514. The health ministry reported another 61 deaths Friday, pushing the tally to 2,552 — nearly 40% of them recorded this month alone. Malaysia’s total cases and deaths have jumped nearly fivefold compared to all of last year.

Muhyiddin said in a statement that all business activity except for essential services would be shut down from Tuesday until June 14 in the first phase of the full lockdown.

If daily cases fall, some economic sectors will be allowed to reopen in the second phase, which is expected to last four weeks, he said. After that, the country will return to current controls, with all businesses allowed to operate but not social activities.

New variants of COVID-19 are spreading across Asia, reversing the success of governments such as Taiwan, Singapore, Vietnam and Thailand. Japan’s new outbreak is amplifying calls to cancel the Summer Olympics.

May 18, 2021

Muhyiddin vowed that the government would bolster the healthcare system to ensure that it doesn’t collapse, and ramp up vaccinations.

This is the country’s second nationwide lockdown in over a year. A lockdown last year hit the economy hard. The government resisted growing calls for another large-scale lockdown but changed course after the runaway increase in new cases.


Earlier Friday, Senior Minister Ismail Sabri said many Malaysian Muslims violated COVID-19 safety rules that banned them from visiting each other during the Eid festival.

He said 24 Eid-related coronavirus clusters had been detected, with 850 confirmed cases. Many of the positive cases involved people who were asymptomatic, he said.