What will happen in a Covid-19 lockdown?

A man walking past the Teatro Marcello in Rome on Thursday. A lockdown in Italy has closed shops and cafes, with personal movements restricted. (AP pic)

PETALING JAYA: A lockdown differs from country to country but in general, citizens stay at home and limit their movements, being allowed out only to get essential goods, seek treatment, or carry out urgent work.

Lockdowns are a “tough and drastic” measure but if executed properly could halt the spread of Covid-19 in Malaysia, according to the Galen Centre for Health and Social Policy.

Its chief executive, Azrul Mohd Khalib, said a lockdown could still be averted in Malaysia if the authorities acted decisively to stop all public gatherings and events for at least a month.

Fears of a lockdown have prompted panic buying of food and consumer goods at many supermarkets in the major cities, in expectation of an official announcement by the government tonight.

The number of Covid-19 cases has risen to 553, with 125 new cases reported, most of whom were people who had attended a massive tabligh (missionary) convention in Sri Petaling two weeks ago.

Azrul said Singapore, Taiwan and Hong Kong authorities had shown that decisive action, even without a lockdown, could help stem the rise in cases.

“In places such as France, Spain and Italy, all stores except pharmacies and food shops are shut down. People are advised carry out only essential travel within the country. Borders might also be closed, as in Germany, Russia and Cambodia.”

In a lockdown, schools, sporting venues and places where people gather in large numbers will be closed.

All public activity involving more than a certain number of people will be prohibited, and this includes places of worship with congregational prayers.

“Supermarkets, pharmacies, markets, and banks are expected to be open, as well as other essential services providing basic necessities.”

A lockdown may be partial or full, in terms of the restrictions or geographical locations imposed. Azrul said the aim was to distrupt the transmission and spread of the novel coronavirus.

“It is a tough and drastic measure which if done properly and adhered to can help break uncontrolled spread of a virus in a large population,” he said.

As an alternative to a lockdown, Azrul said Putrajaya could act firmly by placing limits on the movements of people, encouraging them to work from home and strictly enforcing social distancing (where people keep a distance from one another).

“Large gatherings and events need to be cancelled and people need to be disciplined to adhere to the recommendations and guidelines”.

He also said the government must make it clear to the people that they should not panic though it is important to be vigilant and practice good hygiene.