KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - Malaysia will allow the majority of businesses to resume operations from May 4, Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin said on Friday, partially easing restrictions imposed to contain the spread of the new coronavirus.
In a televised address, Muhyiddin said Malaysia was ready to begin a controlled and cautious reopening of economic activity.
Religious activities, large gatherings and businesses that involve close contacts, such as cinemas and night clubs, will not be allowed to reopen, he said. Schools and universities will also remain closed.
The pace of new coronavirus infections in Malaysia, which for weeks had the most number of infections in Southeast Asia, have slowed in recent days, with known infections at 6,002 as of Thursday.
Malaysia has shut all non-essential businesses and schools, banned public gatherings and restricted travel since March 18 as the number of coronavirus cases rose.
“On the advice of the health ministry and based on data collected and best practices established by the World Health Organisation, the government has decided to reopen economic sectors cautiously by enforcing strict health standard operating procedures,” Muhyiddin said.
Some of the procedures include wearing masks, practising social distancing and maintaining high levels of personal hygiene, he said.
Muhyiddin encouraged employers to allow working from home and for employees to come into the office on alternate days.
Sports activities that involve 10 or less people, such as running, badminton and cycling, will be allowed.
Restaurants will also be allowed to reopen but they have to maintain strict social distancing, Muhyiddin said.
Malaysia has not reopened its borders. Inter-state travel will also not be allowed.
The prime minister also said the government has lost 63 billion ringgit ($14.68 billion) from the movement and travel restrictions imposed over six weeks, and would have lost another 35 billion ringgit if the curbs had been extended by a month.
Last month, Malaysia’s central bank warned that the economy could shrink by as much as 2% or grow 0.5% this year due to the coronavirus pandemic, in what would be its worst economic performance in more than a decade.
Malaysia has announced a stimulus package worth 250 billion ringgit to help cushion the economic blow from the outbreak.
Reporting by Joseph Sipalan; Writing by A. Ananthalakshmi; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore