Malaysia has become the worst-hit country in southeast Asia after a cluster of coronavirus infections were confirmed following an international religious event, pushing the total number of cases up to 428.
The health ministry reported 190 new Covid-19 cases on Sunday, with more than half of the total number of cases linked to the event at a mosque that was attended by 16,000 people from several countries.
All event participants and their close contacts will be placed under quarantine for two weeks, said the ministry.
About a third of the 14,500 Malaysian participants have been tested so far. Health Minister Adham Baba said anyone who attended the four-day event from 27 February should report to district offices and vowed the government will “track and hunt them down”.
The spike in cases was detected early last week, after six Malaysians who attended the event in the Sri Petaling mosque near the capital Kuala Lumpur tested positive. In Brunei, 45 of the total 50 cases there were linked to the same event.
The Malaysian government was due to convene for a special meeting on the outbreak on Monday.
Mr Baba said at a press briefing on Sunday: “We are now in the late containment stage and the meeting will discuss the government’s next course of action in addressing the outbreak.
“Until now, about nine positive cases of Covid-19 patients are being treated at the intensive care unit (ICU) where they require respiratory assistance.”
The Malaysian government banned all public gatherings, including international meetings and sporting, social and religious events, until the end of April. School assemblies have also been banned.
Leaders of the Muslim event at the centre of Malaysia’s current outbreak remained silent until Monday, when they finally urged attendees to get screened for the virus.
Mansur Ismail, who identified himself as the leader of the gathering, said in a video the Sri Petaling mosque was under quarantine and “no congregation is allowed to come”.
According to local newspaper The Malay Mail, Mr Ismail said: “All of those who attended the ‘Jor Qudama and Ulama’ the other day are required to immediately contact your respective district health offices, or the Crisis Preparedness and Response Centre (CPRC) hotline to get guidance and medical treatment.”
Religious leaders around the world have urged their congregations to stay at home or to practice their faith remotely.
In the UK, the Muslim Council of Britain and the British Islamic Medical Association issued advice for faith schools and mosques to plan for “the likely suspension of congregational activities” and prepare to take religious classes online.
“Consider live-streaming programmes or showing programmes through a video link so as to still be able to provide a service and reach congregants,” said the advice.
Tark Aouadi, head of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, told WSHU Public Radio some mosques have begun operating online services and religious events via Skype or other platforms.
The coronavirus outbreak has infected over 170,000 people worldwide and cases in South and Southeast Asia and Europe are rising steadily.
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