March 13, 2020 / 1:27 PM / 25 days ago

Malaysia bans mass gatherings as coronavirus outbreak enters 'second wave'

KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - Malaysia on Friday banned mass gatherings until May at the earliest, and its prime minister said the coronavirus epidemic had taken hold in the country for the foreseeable future as a second wave of infections spread.

Muhyiddin Yassin also said Malaysia’s tourism sector had likely suffered nearly 3.4 billion ringgit ($800 million) in losses in the first two months of 2020, and that the outbreak was expected to cut full-year gross domestic product by between 0.8% and 1.2%.

“Immediate steps need to implemented reduce the impact of the pandemic on the nation’s economy,” he said in a televised address, adding that the government would ensure a $4.7 billion stimulus package announced last month was quickly and fairly implemented.

The health ministry said the number of confirmed coronavirus cases had risen to 197, up 39 from Thursday, though with no fatalities.

At least 40 have been linked to a religious event on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur that was attended by about 10,000 people from several countries.

Muhyiddin said the country was facing a “second wave” of infections, adding: “Based on current trends, this epidemic is expected to go on for a reasonably long period of time. It will not end in the near future.”

To contain the spread of the virus, all gatherings including international meetings, sports, social and religious events would be canceled or postponed until after April, he said.

Southeast Asia’s third-largest economy will also maintain a ban on all arrivals from Hubei, Jiangsu and Zhejiang provinces in China, Hokkaido in Japan, and from Italy, Iran and South Korea.

On Thursday, Malaysia also imposed a travel ban on all arrivals from Denmark, effective Saturday.

($1 = 4.2770 ringgit)

Reporting by Joseph Sipalan; Editing by Alison Williams and John Stonestreet

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