Malaysia's Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin announced late last night (16 March 2020) that the country will undergo a two-week lockdown from tomorrow, Wednesday, 18 March 2020, to Tuesday, 31 March 2020.

This decision was made following a surge in the number of cases who tested positive for the 2019 novel coronavirus (COVID-19). In total, the country has 553 people infected, of which 511 have been hospitalised and 42 have recovered, making it the highest number of reported cases in Southeast Asia so far.

PM Muhyiddin said: "The government takes the situation seriously during this dangerous virus threat especially the development of the second wave. Government priorities over time are to prevent the spread of this new outbreak (which would) infect more people.

"The current situation of the outbreak requires drastic measures to be taken to recover (from) the situation as soon as possible."

Thus, the government decided to implement the Movement Control Order as per the above, under the Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases Act 1988, and the Police Act 1967.

These actions, defining the country's lockdown, include:

  • First, the general prohibition of movement and mass assembly throughout Malaysia including religious, sports, social and cultural activities. All houses of worship and business premises should be closed, except for supermarkets, public markets, grocery stores and stores department stores selling everyday necessities. For Muslims, the postponement of all religious activities in mosques and surau including Friday prayers, is in line with the decision of the Muzakarah Committee of the National Council for Islamic Religious Affairs on Sunday, 15 March 2020;
  • Second, the sanctions cover all Malaysians travelling abroad. Those who have just returned are required to undergo health checks and voluntary quarantine (or self-quarantine) for 14 days;
  • Third, the restriction on entry of all foreign tourists and visitors to the country;
  • Fourth, closure of all kindergartens, government and private schools including daily schools, boarding schools, international schools, tahfiz centres and other primary, secondary and pre-university educational institutions;
  • Fifth, the closure of all public and private institutions of higher learning and skills training institutes nationwide; and
  • Sixth, the closure of all government and private premises except those involved with the country's essential services (water, electricity, power, telecommunications, postal, transportation, irrigation, oil, gas, fuel, lubricants, broadcasting, finance, banking, health, pharmacy, fire, prison, port, airport, security, defence, cleaning, retail and food supply).

The PM explained the move: "I realise that you, my brothers and sisters, may feel that this decision will make it difficult for you to go about your daily lives.

But this move is necessary to prevent the spread of COVID-19 which could claim the lives of Malaysians, as it has (of) thousands of people in other countries."

In addition to the above, he has assured Malaysians that the country has enough supplies of groceries, daily necessities and healthcare provisions including face masks, and that he has directed the Ministry of Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs to constantly monitor the food supply situation and daily needs in the market during the period of the Order.

He added: "I would also like to inform you that the Security Council Special Meeting will meet daily to monitor the situation. I will personally chair this meeting and inform of the development of the Covid-19 outbreak from time to time."

Aid for workers on no-pay leave or sick leave, and Malaysians working in Singapore

In aiding workers who have to go on no-pay leave beginning 1 March 2020, PM Muhyiddin also announced a special RM600 monthly that will be given for a period of six months.

This initiative a part of the Economic Stimulus Package 2020, will apply to those earning no more than RM4,000/month, and about 33,000 employees are expected to benefit from this.

He said this at a press conference, following the first Economic Action Council meeting held earlier yesterday.

Other initiatives to be implemented include a 15% discount on electricity usage for six months starting 1 April to 30 September this year, for businesses affected by COVID-19 especially in tourism.

Separately, the Human Resources Ministry has urged employers and workers to apply sections of the Employment Act 1955 during this period, namely Section 60E (1B) and Section 60F. As cited by Bernama, the statement said: "For workers who are given a quarantine order beyond the sick leave or hospitalisation eligibility period, employers are encouraged to provide additional remuneration to workers for the purpose of maintaining harmonious relations between the employee and the employer."

It added thatin the event of a businessslowdown that results in employers having to reduce their workforce or terminate employment, employers should refer to the Termination Guidelines on the JTKSM website.

As for Malaysians working across the straits, Singapore's Ministry of Manpower has said today (17 March) that companies can encourage the affected workers to stay with their relatives, friends or colleagues, who may be willing to accommodate them for a short period. This may be the option most amenable to some workers.

For workers who cannot stay with relatives, friends or colleagues, the government has worked with the private and public sectors to make available a range of short-term housing options. First, hotels/dormitories, which the government is working with on lower cost rentals.

Second, will be accommodation, such as rooms and whole property in both the HDB flats and private residential property market.

The Ministry added: "We advise employers to assess their manpower needs carefully and make a considered decision as to whether they need their affected workers to remain in Singapore. In providing assistance, we will prioritise the needs of firms that provide essential services such as healthcare, security, cleaning, waste management, facilities management, logistics and transport."

Apart from the above, the government is looking to provide financial support for firms that need to urgently accommodate their affected workers, and will release more details shortly.

Lastly, Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing mentioned in a Facebook post that businesses that employ Malaysian workers who commute between Singapore and Malaysia daily may have to activate their Business Continuity Plans and, if they need assistance, they should contact the economic agencies.

ALSO READ: Employers in Singapore affected by Malaysia’s COVID-19 lockdown to get financial support

This article will be updated as and when new information emerges.

Image / Screenshot of PM Muhyiddin's speech, website of the Prime Minister's Office