Malaysia began a two-week national lockdown on Tuesday, June 1, with police checkpoints on road junctions around the capital Kuala Lumpur.
The country is tackling a wave of COVID-19 infections that has hit record levels in recent weeks.
Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin called it a “total lockdown,” though essential services are allowed and some factories can operate with a reduced workforce.
Archbishop Simon Poh of Kuching called on people to refrain from traveling for the “Gawai Dayak” celebrations.
The “Gawai Dayak” is an annual festival celebrated by the Dayak people in Sarawak, Malaysia and West Kalimantan June 1 and 2. It is a public holiday in Sarawak and is both a religious and a social occasion.
“With a heavy heart, once again I exhort all Catholics, Christians, and everyone working in cities and towns not to travel back to visit your parents and grandparents in kampongs or longhouses especially in COVID-19 free districts,” said the Catholic Church leader.
“Let us do this in a spirit of sacrifice of love and act of filial piety to our parents, as we protect our elderly and village folks who do not have access to medical facilities should COVID-19 infection be brought back to the villages,” he said.
Archbishop Simon instead urged people to make use of social media “to connect and celebrate with your family … though distance may separate us, but we still remain close at heart.”
The latest outbreak has been more severe, partly due to highly transmissible variants. It has also strained the health service, prompting some in the capital to question whether enough has been done.
“For me, the lockdown should have been carried out during Ramadan when there were fewer cases and people didn’t move around as much,” said bank manager Muhammad Azril Maridzuan, referring to the Muslim fasting month that ended in mid-May.
“Now, people are moving around more. So it’s a little late but a lockdown is okay to reduce our infection rates,” he said.
Traffic appeared lighter in parts of the often congested capital with cars moving smoothly around the landmark 88-storey Petronas Twin Towers.
Another resident also worried about the scope of the latest curbs.
“I think even with the new restrictions, the airports are still open so there is still a potential that COVID can spread even while the people are struggling (under lockdown) right now,” said Siti, a 25-year-old food delivery rider, who declined to give her full name.
Malaysia on Monday announced an additional US$9.7 billion stimulus package ahead of the lockdown, as the finance minister warned on Tuesday that this year’s economic growth forecast of 6%-7.5% may have to be revised down due to the new lockdown measures.
The number of new daily COVID-19 cases has been greater than India’s on a per capita basis, though infections have come down since hitting a record on Saturday.
Malaysia reported 7,105 new infections on Tuesday, bringing its total cases to 579,462. – with a report from Reuters