Universities shuttered across Malaysia as third Covid wave hits

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Malaysia’s universities have been closed for the next month, as spiking coronavirus cases force the country into its third major lockdown.

In a 10 May media statement, prime minister Muhyiddin Yassin said all educational institutions were now closed until 6 June, although exceptions applied to students facing “international examinations”.

The measure was part of a “movement control order” imposed throughout the country, as daily coronavirus infections exceeded 4,000. “With…37,396 active cases [and] 1,700 deaths reported as of 10 May, Malaysia is facing a third wave of Covid-19 which could trigger a national crisis,” Mr Muhyiddin said.

“We have successfully matched the Covid-19 infection curve in the first and second waves of this epidemic [but] the wave we are facing [now] is more violent and critical. We still haven’t won.”

Malaysia instituted its first major lockdown in March last year, with conditions gradually relaxed from May. Much of the country was plunged back into lockdown in January, following a second wave blamed on state elections in Sabah.

The country’s initially successful management of the pandemic prompted speculation that Malaysia could act as a transit hub for international students excluded from Australia because of the southern nation’s ongoing border closures. But a planned reopening of Malaysian campuses in early October was cancelled at short notice, while incoming international students were told to delay their travels until the end of the year.

The latest lockdown has been called just two days before the Eid religious holiday that follows the month-long fasting of Ramadan, known in Malaysia as Hari Raya Aidilfitri. Social outings have now been banned during the festival.

A message posted on the website of the flagship University of Malaya, where residential students were banned from leaving campus under the January movement control order, advises that restrictions on mobility have been reinstated. Staff have been instructed to work from home, with all ceremonies cancelled and visitors and contractors requiring permission to enter the campus.

“I pray that we are all protected from the Covid-19 epidemic and that our efforts are blessed by Allah,” says the message from the chair of the university’s coronavirus management committee, Abdul Aziz bin Abdul Raman. “Happy Hari Raya Aidilfitri. Sorry outwardly and inwardly.”

john.ross@timeshighereducation.com

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