In Malaysia, more than 32 million people will be confined to their homes beginning March 18 as the government’s nationwide lockdown takes effect following the sharp spike in the country’s coronavirus cases.

The drastic order by Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin’s covers the entire country, with a ban on all public gatherings including religious, sports, social and cultural events until the end of the month.

All businesses except for supermarkets, banks, pharmacies and other places providing essential services will be shuttered during the said period.

Malaysians will be likewise restricted to travel overseas, and all incoming passengers will be banned, except for returning Malaysians who will be required to self-quarantine for 14 days.

“We cannot wait until the situation deteriorates. Drastic moves are needed immediately to restrict public movement and curb the spread of the virus,” the PM said.

However, experts say that the nationwide lockdown is not necessary as it will only trigger panic and deepen the country’s economic crisis.

“Instead of a lockdown, the government can mobilize security agencies, like the People’s Volunteer Corps (Rela) and police, to track down close contacts (of confirmed Covid-19 cases),” said Public Health Specialist Association president Datuk Dr. Zainal Ariffin.

Soon after the Malaysian leader announced the lockdown, millions of people across the nation went panic buying at many shops and supermarkets.

But reports say that most of the shoppers are from the wealthy and middle classes, causing the low-wage earners left without much-needed items on the shelves.

Similar to the situations in other countries that have earlier implemented lockdowns, Malaysians now fear of insufficient supply of food and adequate health care.

If the lockdown is prolonged, “how can we earn and how can we eat? These are the questions raised by most Malaysian citizens noting that they may have been saved from the deadly virus but might suffer from starvation.

Muhyiddin urged Malaysians to stay calm and assured that the government will do its best to provide basic necessities and continue its public services despite the lockdown.

Earlier, the government unveiled a 20 billion-ringgit ($4.7 billion) stimulus program to bolster the Malaysian economy. Additional financial assistance for the poor and unpaid workers will also be given while discounts on electricity bills for half a year will be offered to low-income families.

Malaysia has reported a total of 566 coronavirus cases on Tuesday, making it the worst affected country in Southeast Asia.

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