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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - Malaysia warned of a fresh wave of coronavirus infections if people did not follow two-week movement restrictions that started on Wednesday after cases in the country spiked to the highest in Southeast Asia.
It has so far reported two coronavirus deaths, including a man who attended a mass Muslim gathering linked to nearly two-thirds of the country's 673 infections. Thousands of the attendees still remain to be tested, raising the risk of an even greater spread of the virus.
"We have a slim chance to break the chain of Covid-19 infections," Noor Hisham Abdullah, director general of Health Malaysia, said in a Facebook post.
"Failure is not an option here. If not, we may face a third wave of this virus, which would be greater than a tsunami, if we maintain a "so what" attitude."
In Southeast Asia, the causeway between Malaysia and the financial hub of Singapore was eerily quiet after Malaysia shut its borders, while the Philippines backed down on an order giving foreigners 72 hours to leave from a large part of its main island.
The government of Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, who took office only this month, has said there is enough stock of essentials for the country of 32 million people.
The move to restrict travel is expected to hit Singapore businesses, which employ some 300,000 Malaysians who commute from across the Straits of Johor.
Malaysia and the Philippines, which has quarantined about half its 107 million population, have imposed the toughest restrictions on movements of people in Southeast Asia, causing early confusion and chaos, though capital markets in both countries will stay open.
Hours before the movement curbs kicked in at midnight in Malaysia, thousands of people queued up at bus stations to go back to their hometowns. Hordes of Malaysians who commute daily to Singapore for work crossed the border to spend the next two weeks there.
Roads in the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur, normally some of the most congested in Southeast Asia on weekdays, were largely clear on Wednesday morning. Some cafes and restaurants opened, but customers were allowed only takeaway food.
Big supermarket chains such as Mydin put in measures including special shopping slots and cashier lanes for the elderly and disabled and limited the purchases of staples such as rice, flour, cooking oil, hand sanitisers and disinfectants.
Updated: March 18, 2020 12:30 PM
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