Asia Minute: Malaysia’s Health Crisis Also Touches Politics

Jan 13, 2021

New cases of the coronavirus are continuing to rise, not only in the United States but also in several other parts of the world. That includes Malaysia — where the government has now declared a state of emergency covering the entire country.

In Malaysia, more people have died from COVID-19 in December and January than in the previous ten months combined.

The country is a constitutional monarchy, but the prime minister needs to ask the king to declare a national emergency. And on Tuesday, the king did that — extending the emergency until August 1st, unless COVID cases decline significantly before that date.

Malaysia has registered more than 2,000 new cases a day for the past week, and on Tuesday the numbers rose past 3,300 — a new daily record. The Straits Times reports that nationwide, there are now only about 100 hospital beds reserved for COVID patients that are available.

In a statement, the king said he’s also concerned about the impact of recent nationwide flooding on the country’s healthcare system.

And there’s a political aspect to this — for a prime minister who was appointed to the office in March following the sudden resignation of Mahathir Mohammed.

Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin now says all political activity in the country will be suspended during the state of emergency. And that includes elections.

The declaration also gives the prime minister the power to suspend parliament — at a time when the ruling party has been losing support of some of its coalition partners in the national legislature.