On March 18, the government announced the implementation of a movement control order (MCO) in a bid to arrest the spread of the global pandemic known as Covid-19. In Malaysia, the move entailed movement restrictions and the closing of businesses except for those providing essential services. The MCO was initially set to end on March 31, but was extended to a stricter phase two on April 1, until April 14.

The MCO continued with the announcement of an even tighter phase three, which began on April 15 and was set to end on April 28. This has now been extended to a fourth phase, again by two weeks, from April 29 to May 12. Prime minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin announced the extension in his live Ramadan address to the nation earlier tonight.

As it was before, no surprises with the latest extension, even if fatigue and some element of economic anxiety is starting to set in. This is because we’re still not out of the woods yet, despite the control measures and excellent work by the health ministry having reduced the number of new Covid-19 cases daily to double digits in the past week.

Nonetheless, the threat remains, and so the decision to continue with the MCO is being taken to reduce new cases to a minimum and completely prevent the spread of this epidemic, the PM said. He added that during phase four, the government will evaluate the latest data provided by health ministry to determine the next steps.

“I do not rule out the possibility that the MCO will be extended after this. You might not be able to celebrate Hari Raya in your hometown,” he said in his speech, hinting that a further fifth phase was possible.

However, he said that if the number of cases continue to see a significant decline, the government may relax control over several sectors, including the social sector. “This is to enable people to enjoy a more comfortable life. The National Security Council (NSC) is developing a comprehensive plan on this,” he said.

Muhyiddin said that the government is studying ways to gradually revive the economy. This includes developing comprehensive short-term, medium and long-term recovery plans to ensure economic activity can be revived quickly after the MCO ends. This will be drawn up by the finance ministry and the economic planning unit, together with the prime minister’s department.

The focus, he said, was to identify measures and initiatives that will stimulate short- and medium-term economic growth, and encourage the confidence of the people and investors to revitalise the country. “Among the initiatives being planned are building the capacity and skills of the people, promoting domestic spending, enhancing the resilience of industries including SMEs, and fostering a more positive investment environment for the future,” he explained.

The PM said that despite the extension to the MCO, companies in certain sectors will be allowed to operate, but will be subject to stringent compliance with regards to employee safety, social distancing and workplace hygiene. Businesses that have been given permission to reopen in phase three include workshops and service centres, although some questions related to movement around the process still remain open-ended.

He said that the government will consider opening up some sectors and other sub-sectors, again subject to strict compliance. Detailed guidelines and conditions will be issued to investors and the corporate sector as to how to go about restarting their companies’ operations.

Additionally, he said that with the dramatic decline of new Covid-19 cases, the government has decided to relax some measures with regards to interstate travel, reiterating that which was mentioned yesterday by senior minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob.

The primary involves the relaxation of movement for IPTA (public university) and IPTS (private university) students, for them to be allowed to return to their homes. Muhyiddin said that the process for getting these students home is currently being planned by the government, with the advice of the health ministry.

He said that since the number of students involved is huge, with almost 100,000 in the equation, the government will have to plan movement carefully to ensure all is in order and there is no risk of infection. Before being allowed home, all of these students will have to undergo testing to ascertain that they have no Covid-19 symptoms, he added.

He also said that the government is exploring the possibility of allowing those who went back to their hometowns before the MCO was enforced to return to Kuala Lumpur and other major cities, with the granting of a one-time travel authorisation for this purpose. However, since this movement is expected to involve a huge number of people, authorities will need to gather all data possible and study the best way to regulate movement.

Yesterday, Ismail Sabri had said that to facilitate this, the specific group will have to make applications online via the ‘Gerak Malaysia’ app from April 25, and that the matter would be then studied. If it is allowed, movement will likely happen after May 1, he added.

Measures already in place for the MCO remain, with a slight revision to the operating time for public transport during the fasting month. As before, the operating hours for all supermarkets, restaurants doing takeaways and petrol stations as well as bank ATMs are from 8am to 8pm. Food delivery services can operate only from 8am to 8pm daily.

Limited operation hours for public transport (LRT/MRT and stage buses) will continue, although with an additional hour being added in the evening for the month of Ramadan. This is from 6am to 10am and from 4pm (previously, 5pm) to 10pm daily, while taxis and ride-hailing vehicles will be permitted to operate from 6am to 10pm.

The number of essential services has been expanded from 10 to 15, although the 10 km cap on travel distance from home to get food and necessities remains, as does the one-person-per-car rule. The police, meanwhile, won’t be letting up in its efforts to maintain tighter control measures that were introduced in phase three, and will continue to arrest those who violate the MCO.

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