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1 100 virus lockdown arrests in Malaysia

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Notice given of further restrictions aimed at halting the spread of Covid-19

MALAYSIAN police have arrested at least 1 100 people for violating a lockdown aimed at curbing a recent spike in the number of coronavirus cases.

At 2 626 confirmed infections, Malaysia has the highest national total in South-East Asia.

During a Monday press conference, Defence Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob said that 828 people were arrested on Sunday for breaching movement restrictions imposed on March 18.

Police had earlier announced over 300 arrests for violations such as jogging and playing football.

One suspect, a 61-year-old cardiologist, told police that running should be permitted for health reasons. A video of the encounter went viral on Malaysian social media last week. The suspect pleaded not guilty in court on Monday.

Giving notice of further restrictions aimed at halting the spread of Covid-19, Ismail said shops will reduce operating hours from Wednesday.

“All supermarkets or any premises selling essential items shall observe the new operation hours, which (are) from 8am to 8pm,” the minister said.

The lockdown in Malaysia includes closing borders and most businesses. The government has repeatedly warned people to stay at home unless venturing out to shops, markets, pharmacies or other purveyors of essential goods.

Restaurants are permitted to operate, but only as take-away or delivery outlets.

Though some taxis still ply their trade, and employees in permitted sectors such as banks and utilities drive to and from work, most of Kuala Lumpur’s sparse traffic is comprised of food delivery couriers.

On Monday evening the Health Ministry said that two more people had died after contracting Covid-19, taking Malaysia’s death toll to 37. Some 94 people were in intensive care with the disease.

Around half of Malaysia’s confirmed Covid-19 diagnoses have been traced to an Islamic ceremony held on Kuala Lumpur’s outskirts in late February that was attended by an estimated 15 000 people and spawned cases in several neighbouring countries.

Officials have claimed that unless Malaysians stick to the lockdown rules, the country’s caseload could hit 6 000 by mid-April.

Aided by drones conducting aerial patrols, soldiers have joined police in manning more than 1 500 roadblocks and checkpoints aimed at enforcing the restrictions.

“The second phase (of the lockdown) will see an increase from the aspect of roadblocks and checking on the movement of people,” Ismail said.

Health Ministry director-general Noor Hisham Abdullah said it is “too early to say” if Malaysia’s lockdown will end on April 14 as scheduled.

“We will only know after the first week of April,” he said, speaking at a separate press conference.

– DPA