PETALING JAYA: The Covid-19 pandemic in Malaysia has felt, at times, like a bit of a roller coaster. In the time between the first national lockdown and movement control order in March last year and the latest iteration facing the country, the country has faced a host of twists and turns.
Here is a timeline of the highs and lows of Malaysia’s Covid-19 journey.
The first lockdown, and short-lived road to recovery
Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, less than three weeks into his new job and a day after the country recorded 190 cases, announces that the country would go under a movement control order, a term unfamiliar at the time but now part of the public lexicon.
It was supposed to last from March 18-31, but would be extended until May 4, when the first conditional MCO would begin. This ended on June 9 when cases sunk to single digits, marking the start of the recovery MCO.
While some restrictions like mask wearing and social distancing remained, some degree of normality seemed to have returned as interstate borders reopened and most sectors were allowed to operate.
Compared to regional neighbours, Malaysia was seen as having one of the most robust and effective responses. While Singapore, the Philippines and Indonesia grappled with outbreaks of their own in the middle of the year, Malaysia’s numbers held strong, barely cracking 20 a day.
Hail the DG
The most visible face during the early stages of the pandemic, with his near daily press briefings announcing the day’s figures and reminding people to stay home, health director-general Noor Hisham Abdullah was lavished with praise for his handling of the pandemic and quickly became a household name.
Accolades and international recognition followed.
In April, he was awarded an honorary doctorate for leadership in public health by Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia.
Later that month, China Global TV Network named Noor Hisham alongside Dr Anthony Fauci of the US and Dr Ashley Bloomfield of New Zealand as one of the three best public health officials in the world, in recognition of his straightforward and calm approach to managing the pandemic.
In August, he was bestowed the title Tan Sri in conjunction with the Yang di-Pertuan Agong’s birthday.
The Sabah elections
On Aug 9, the Sabah state government declared its state assembly elections would be held on Sept 26, despite the ongoing pandemic. Many feared the effects that the movement of people between Sabah and the peninsula may have on case numbers, which then hovered in the high single digits and ‘teens.
Those fears were realised when daily cases, mostly in Sabah, began to rise to triple digits in September. Thus began the “second wave” of infections, which quickly eclipsed every record set previously as daily cases cracked four digits.
On Nov 7, a CMCO was imposed across most states in the peninsula, which put an end to interstate travel in affected areas. However, less than a month later, on Dec 5, state borders were re-opened.
MCO 2.0 or Emergency?
Confusion abounded, as Muhyiddin took to the podium in a special address on Jan 11 to announce the commencement of MCO 2.0 in six states on Jan 13.
Then, less than 24 hours later, he announced that a state of emergency had been consented to by the King, effective immediately and to run until at least August.
The emergency led to the suspension of Parliament, a decision much derided by many in the opposition and some in the government. Emergency powers allowed the government to enact new laws and amendments without debate.
Different states went in and out of the various levels of MCO until March 5, which coincided with the start of the national Covid-19 immunisation programme the following week.
The Third Wave and #KerajaanGagal
March 29 was the last time daily cases dipped below four digits. From then on, cases increased steadily and SOPs came and went.
The hashtag #KerajaanGagal began to trend on Twitter on a regular basis, aimed at politicians flouting SOPs, contradicting one another and releasing confusing and vague SOPs.
On May 8, a day after a daily case record of 4,498 was set, senior minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob said there would be no nationwide lockdown, with restrictions to be targeted at areas of concern.
Two days later, Muhyiddin placed Malaysia under another MCO, from May 12 to June 7. #KerajaanGagal reared its head again, as the government was slammed for the abrupt U-turn.
On May 20, after recording 6,806 new cases, Malaysia surpassed India’s number of daily cases per million people, topping the country whose outbreak this year was seen as one of the worst in the pandemic’s short history.
Then, on May 28, with daily cases climbing above 8,000 for the first time, the prime minister announced a nationwide ‘total lockdown’ from June 1-14, superseding the MCO the country was already under.
Once again, the public and political opponents lashed out at the government’s indecisiveness, and took aim at what they perceived to be a far too relaxed set of restrictions with the majority of industries able to continue operations.
Now, with the death rate climbing and some ominously projecting the body count to reach 26,000 by September despite the arrival of vaccines, many are left wondering what went wrong.
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