Wednesday, 27 May 2020

Coronavirus: Residents adjust to life under full lockdown in Malaysia's red zones

KUALA LUMPUR – As a member of the Volunteer Corps (Rela) and head of his village, Mr Sarlan Yasmin, 63, is on standby 24 hours a day in case he is needed to distribute food to residents or man roadblocks.

His village, Kampung Datuk Ibrahim Majid, is one of two areas in Simpang Renggam, in Johor, which were the first in Malaysia to be placed under total lockdown for two weeks – from March 27 to April 9 – after 61 coronavirus cases were recorded in both areas.

“Three residents are tabligh (Islamic missionary group) members and had attended the gathering at the Sri Petaling mosque. They are active at the mosque here too,” Mr Sarlan told The Straits Times.

Some 15,000 people attended the massive religious convention in Kuala Lumpur between Feb 27 and March 1, which became South-east Asia’s biggest Covid-19 hot spot.

Two other events added to the risk factor for the village. Several residents returned from a pilgrimage to Mecca on March 2 and there was a wedding in which 500 guests mingled with one another on March 15, just three days before a movement control order (MCO) was initiated nationwide, closing borders, schools and non-essential businesses.

It was a time when many residents, mostly farmers who grow oil palm and yam, were unsure about the threat of Covid-19.

The area began to see a spike in infections – with many of the patients above the age of 60 – prompting the government to place 3,500 people in the village and nearby Bandar Baharu Datuk Ibrahim Majid under total lockdown or, as the government called it, an enhanced movement control order (EMCO).

No one can leave their home, except to undergo screening for Covid-19.

All shops must close, and roads leading in and out of the area are sealed.

Households must depend on the government for rations, such as rice, canned sardines, sugar, flour, chicken, eggs, detergent and even cat food.

“We can’t go out at all. If we have run out of food, we have to eat whatever the government gives us. I even have to ask them for cat food. I have two cats and they don’t want to eat fish or chicken. They will only eat Friskies,” said Mr Sarlan, who lives with five other family members.

Another seven villages in the Hulu Langat district in Selangor, an hour’s drive from the capital and known for its greenery and ecotourism spots, are also under full lockdown from March 30 to April 13 after 71 cases of Covid-19 were reported at the Maahad Tahfiz An-Nabawiyyah religious school in Sungai Lui.

Police are using drones to monitor the large area with almost 4,000 residents, comprising mostly of Malays and indigenous Orang Asli.

Tanah Larwina, a 1.2ha farmstead retreat in the lockdown zone and located 3.5km from the religious school, posted on Instagram on Tuesday (March 31) that the residents had received “free rice and other foodstuffs” delivered by the authorities.

“The only thing they don’t have now is cigarettes,” the post said.

The farmstead’s owner Faisol Hussain, 55, said his workers had stopped going out even before the lockdown, once they heard about the cases at the school.

“They were quite scared, especially every time they heard the ambulance in the distance. The kids (from the school) didn’t mingle with the community so much, but they did go out to the shops, and have breakfast at the food stalls.”

The retreat, which mainly receives guests from Kuala Lumpur and Singapore, was fully booked for the week when the MCO kicked in on March 18, as it was the school holidays, but all bookings were cancelled after the order.

Health director-general Noor Hisham Abdullah on Friday (March 3) said that the number of infections in Hulu Langat and Simpang Renggam were still rising.

There were 300 cases in Hulu Langat, 90 of those in Sungai Lui where 25 people had attended the tabligh meet.

The number of cases in Kluang district, which includes Sungei Renggam, had gone up to 132, 10 more than Thursday.

Hulu Langat and Sungei Renggam are the only two large areas in Malaysia affected by a full lockdown. On Tuesday, one apartment building in City One, near the Masjid India area in Kuala Lumpur, was placed under similar restrictions after 17 cases were detected among residents.

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