March 31, 2020 / 9:27 AM / 2 months ago

Malaysia says curbs preventing major spikes in coronavirus cases

KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - Malaysia’s stay-at-home order has prevented major daily spikes in coronavirus infections, the government said on Tuesday, but the World Bank warned the trade-reliant country’s economy would shrink this year for the first time in more than a decade.

Firefighters spray disinfectant on a street during the movement control order due to the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia March 31, 2020. REUTERS/Lim Huey Teng

Malaysia recorded 140 new coronavirus cases and six deaths on Tuesday, taking the total number of infections to 2,766 with 43 fatalities. Nearly half of its infections are linked to a religious gathering held late last month.

The country, which has the highest number of reported cases in Southeast Asia, has imposed month-long restrictions on travel and non-essential business that expire on April 14 to contain the spread of the respiratory illness.

“We have not lost the war against COVID-19, neither have we won the war yet,” Noor Hisham Abdullah, director general of the Ministry of Health, said on Twitter.

“We need each and everyone of you to break the chain of transmission. Please continue to stay at home, practice frequent hand-washing and keep a distance from others. So far, we are succeeding with no spike of cases.”

The number of coronavirus infections has risen by generally 140-200 a day since restrictions on movement were imposed two weeks ago. Noor Hisham said on Saturday that if cases surged to 1,000 a day, there could be a shortage of hospital beds to treat patients.

Meanwhile, the World Bank forecast that Malaysia’s economy, Southeast Asia’s third biggest, would contract 0.1% this year, sharply down from its previous projection of 4.5% growth, and actual growth of 4.3% last year, under the impact of the virus.

The economy last slipped below zero in 2009, dragged down by the global financial crisis.

“The large degree of uncertainty over the outcome of the (coronavirus) outbreak presents a major downside risk to the economy,” the bank said in a statement.

“An uncontained or further deterioration of the outbreak would result in more severe or prolonged restrictions on overall economic activities, posing a further drag on growth into 2021.”

Reporting by Rozanna Latiff and Krishna N. Das; editing by Mark Heinrich

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