Malaysia in gradual recovery from third wave of Covid-19 infections

PUTRAJAYA – The announcement by Malaysia and Singapore to work towards facilitating bilateral cross-border travel on Tuesday (March 23) has spotlighted Malaysia’s gradual recovery from a coronavirus crisis that had threatened to overwhelm its healthcare system just two months ago.

Malaysia’s posted daily infections of nearly 6,000 at the end of January and declared a national emergency, but cases have tapered off in recent weeks, aided by mass testing of its foreign workers and a vaccination rollout.

Foreign Minister Dr Vivian Balakrishnan met with his Malaysian counterpart Hishammuddin Hussein in Putrajaya on Tuesday with, among others, discussions on mutual vaccine certification to aid cross-border travel.

In a joint statement, Dr Vivian and Datuk Seri Hishamuddin said that they had discussed about “their respective national vaccination rollout plans which are underway in Malaysia and Singapore, and how this could facilitate cross-border travel between both countries in the near future”.

The discussions took place less than two months after Singapore suspended its Reciprocal Green Lane (RGL) cross border travel scheme with Malaysia following after a spike in coronavirus cases in Malaysia at the beginning of the year.

Malaysia last year had managed to bring the pandemic under control, only to see cases surging in a third wave that started back in September.

The spike in cases saw Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin reimposing nationwide travel curbs in January and requesting the Malaysian King to impose a national emergency. The emergency was declared on Jan 12 and is set to last until Aug 1.

Active cases – those being treated for Covid-19 in hospitals or at government centres – reached as high as 52,000 in early February.

But these active cases have since more than halved, standing at 14,454 cases on Tuesday, as more people recovered and the number of those newly infected fell in March.

After recording a high of 5,728 daily cases on Jan 30, Malaysia has recorded over 1,000 new cases a day for the past 18 days, with 1,384 cases recorded on Tuesday.

The plateauing of daily cases at above-1,000 a day is accompanied by Malaysia’s Covid-19 vaccine rollout, which started on Feb 24.

So far, 452,919 doses of vaccine have been administered, or fewer than two per cent of Malaysia’s 32 million population.

Much of the country’s economy has been reopened following a partial Movement Control Oder that lasted more than a month, although inter-state travel remains prohibited.

Malaysia announced on Monday that nearly 1.5 million documented foreign workers have been screened for Covid-19, with the bulk of them – totalling 1.2 million – being in the manufacturing, construction, plantation and agricultural sectors nationwide.

Malaysia has some 2.2 million foreign nationals who work in the country legally.

The Malaysian authorities have said that they aim to vaccinate 80 per cent of the country’s population by the end of this year, in order to achieve herd immunity.

Malaysia has secured vaccines to cover its entire population, and will next month begin a crucial second phase of its vaccination rollout- inoculating senior citizens and other high-risk groups.

The country is on track to finish vaccination over 500,000 frontline workers by the end of this month, before moving on to inoculate senior citizens who make up almost 30 per cent of the population.

However, vaccine registration remains relatively slow, with over 6 million – or only 25 per cent of the population – having registered. Malaysia has also said it plans to inoculate millions of undocumented migrants residing in Malaysia.

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