Malaysia will further ease its restrictions to curb the coronavirus from Wednesday, with nearly all social, economic and religious activities set to restart while adhering to social distancing protocols and safety measures.
Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin announced yesterday that the government would allow domestic travel and small-scale social activities, and reopen schools in stages under the "recovery movement control order" phase, which runs from Wednesday until Aug 31.
"Health Ministry statistics show that the rate of infection has been dropping and is under control," he said in an address broadcast nationally across social media and television channels. The movement control order (MCO) was first relaxed on May 4, six weeks after strict curbs that closed most of the economy and the country's borders were first imposed.
The government has sought to restart commercial activity in stages, amid rising unemployment that has reached its highest level in a decade.
Most businesses were allowed to reopen last month, with strict social distancing protocols in place. However, schools remain shut, while large social gatherings and inter-state travel are banned.
But beginning on Wednesday, inter-state travel will be allowed except for areas under full lockdown - also known as enhanced MCO - Tan Sri Muhyiddin said. Schools will also be reopened in stages but international borders remain shut.
Malaysians are still barred from leaving the country while returning residents are required to be quarantined for 14 days.
Non-contact sports other than water sports will be allowed, but entertainment outlets remain shut, and large gatherings are still banned.
This follows the government's announcement on Saturday that hair salons and beauty parlours can open from Wednesday, while open-air markets and bazaars can resume operations from next Monday.
Many Malaysians had already begun booking slots at salons, and are now making plans to return to badminton courts, bowling alleys and hotels across the country.
"I was considering a staycation in the Klang Valley for my birthday next week, but now I'm scouring for promotions in the east coast, or even Sabah," said Kuala Lumpur-based bank employee Sharon Lee, 40.
The number of new coronavirus cases has largely been in the double digits across the past eight weeks, with spikes mostly due to clusters among undocumented migrants held in detention centres.
Yesterday saw 19 new coronavirus cases, taking the cumulative total to 8,322, with more than 80 per cent of patients discharged. The death toll remained at 117.
Mr Muhyiddin said the public will have to shoulder the responsibilities of the "new normal" with regard to hygiene and social distancing. He added that if the recovery phase is successful, it would be replaced with a normalisation period after Aug 31 until a vaccine is found.
"But I want to remind everyone that if there is a surge in positive Covid-19 cases during this period, the government will not hesitate to impose the enhanced MCO in affected areas," he warned.
Kuala Lumpur had, as of April, rolled out RM260 billion (S$85 billion) in stimulus packages to cushion the economic blow from the coronavirus pandemic. The government says these plans have saved 2.4 million jobs, ensured cash flow to 11 million people and propped up over 300,000 companies.
Last Friday, it announced an additional stimulus package - the "national economic recovery plan" - worth RM35 billion.
Malaysia expects the economy to go into recession this year, with unemployment set to reach as high as 5.5 per cent out of the 16 million-strong labour force.