March 20, 2020 / 11:04 AM / 12 days ago

Malaysian army to enforce curbs as coronavirus cases rise above 1,000

KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - Malaysia will mobilise the army to help enforce curbs on movement aimed at reining in the coronavirus, the government said on Friday, as it grapples with the highest number of infections in Southeast Asia.

FILE PHOTO: Police officers check vehicles at a roadblock to enforce movement control order due to the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia March 19, 2020. REUTERS/Lim Huey Teng/File photo

Malaysia reported 130 new infections on Friday, taking its total to 1,030, accounting for nearly 40 percent of those across Southeast Asia.

Since Wednesday, Malaysia has closed its borders, schools and non-essential businesses for two weeks and ordered people to limit going outside, warning of a “tsunami” of cases if the curbs are not followed.

But people continued to go to restaurants and parks, Defence Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob said.

“The army will begin mobilising on Sunday,” he told a news briefing. “We are confident with the army’s assistance, we would be better able to enforce this order.”

People could be arrested if they defy the curbs without good reason, he said.

The health ministry also urged people to stay at home, saying 15 healthcare workers had been infected with the virus.

“Our simple message to the public today: Please help us to help you. Stay at home,” Director General Noor Hisham Abdullah said on Facebook.

Malaysians with long-term entry passes to another country will be allowed to travel out for work, but will only be able to return home after the end of the restrictions on March 31, the government said.

This will allow Malaysians working in wealthy neighbour Singapore to cross a causeway to get to work on the island, but they will have to stay there for the next 11 days.

An Islamic gathering in Kuala Lumpur that was attended by 16,000 people has been linked to nearly 750 cases in Southeast Asia.

In Malaysia alone, the event has been linked to nearly 624 cases, nearly two-thirds of its the total number.

Citizens of two dozen countries attended, and at least 61 cases in Brunei, 22 in Cambodia and several in Indonesia, Thailand and Indonesia have been linked to it.

Authorities are scrambling to track people who attended, including hundreds of Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar and other refugees.

About 4,000 of the 14,500 Malaysians who attended had yet to be screened for the virus, the government said on Thursday.

Vietnam’s military also said it was mobilising with “combat readiness” to fight the virus, which emerged in central China late last year and is spreading around the world.

Infections in Southeast Asia are increasing rapidly. Another 60 were reported in Indonesia and 50 in Thailand, taking the total in the tropical region to more than 2,500.

Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim majority nation, reported seven more deaths, taking its death toll to 32 – higher than anywhere else in the region.

President Joko Widodo said on Friday he would use “all state power” to tackle the outbreak.

FILE PHOTO: An empty street is seen in front of Petronas Twin Towers after Malaysia's government announced the movement control order due to the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia March 19, 2020. REUTERS/Lim Huey Teng/File photo

While many Muslims in Indonesia’s capital, Jakarta, accepted advice to avoid religious gatherings, elsewhere people ignored the risk and crowded into mosques.

“Allah is protecting those who abide by their obligations,” said Aswin Jusar, 76, in the town of Depok, south of Jakarta.

Indonesia has faced criticism from medical workers for a slow start to testing in an archipelago that stretches wider than the continental United States.

Additional reporting by Phuong Nguyen and James Pearson in Hanoi, Maikel Jefriando in Jakarta, Writing by A. Ananthalakshmi; Editing by Matthew Tostevin and Nick Macfie

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