Malaysia imposes virus curbs, warns hospitals at 'breaking point'

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Malaysia had relaxed restrictions as infections fell to almost zero last year but cases crept up again, and have hit record highs in recent days

Malaysia will impose strict new curbs in over half the country to fight a coronavirus surge, the prime minister said Monday, warning the country's healthcare system was at "breaking point".

It joins other Asian nations, from Japan to Australia, which kept their outbreaks under control in the early stages but have been forced to introduce new measures in recent days.

Malaysia had relaxed restrictions as infections fell to almost zero last year but cases have crept up again, hitting record highs in recent days.

Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin announced a two-week partial lockdown will be imposed in the worst-hit parts of the country from Wednesday, with all non-essential businesses to close.

"Our healthcare system is at breaking point, the situation today is indeed very alarming," he said in a nationally televised address.

The curbs will be imposed in the capital Kuala Lumpur and five of the country's 13 states, home to around 20 million of the country's 32 million inhabitants.

Essential businesses -- such as supermarkets and banks -- can continue operating, as can five key economic sectors including manufacturing and construction, Muhyiddin said.

Only two people per household will be allowed outside for essential purposes, such as buying groceries.

Many people had already been ordered to work from home several months ago as cases crept up, and will continue to do so, while school closures will be extended.

Travel between the country's different states is prohibited.

The news came as two ministers from Muhyiddin's cabinet tested positive, local media reported.

Malaysia has recorded over 138,000 infections and 555 deaths from Covid-19.

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