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New Outbreak in Malaysia Is Linked to Ramadan Gatherings

Malaysia on Wednesday recorded nearly 7,500 coronavirus cases and 63 deaths, its highest tolls since the pandemic began, and has joined several other Southeast Asian nations in introducing new restrictions to curb a resurgence of infections.

With a population of nearly 33 million, Malaysia is now seeing more infections per capita than almost any country in Asia, with 21 cases per 100,000 people, according to a New York Times database.

Part of Malaysia’s surge appears to be the result of prayer gatherings this month around Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, despite restrictions. The health minister, Noor Hisham Abdullah, said on Wednesday that a dozen clusters with a total of 470 cases had emerged from prayer gatherings that were held 14 days earlier.

The Malaysian government imposed new restrictions that took effect on Tuesday, including shortening operating hours for businesses and requiring more people to work from home. Residents were encouraged to limit their social contacts and to stay at home as much as possible.

But the prime minister, Muhyiddin Yassin, stopped short of imposing as strict a lockdown as he did last year for fear of damaging the economy.

“We have learned over the last year, we cannot close the economy,” he said in a televised interview on Sunday. “We have to balance life and livelihoods.”

Malaysia is one of several countries in Southeast Asia, including Thailand and Vietnam, that handled the pandemic well last year but now face their biggest outbreaks. In all of 2020, Malaysia reported 113,000 cases and 471 deaths. So far in 2021, the country has recorded more than four times as many cases and five times as many deaths.

As intensive care units at some hospitals were reported to be nearing capacity, Mr. Muhyiddin’s government has come under criticism for mishandling the surge in cases and for bungling its vaccine rollout after an online registration system crashed. About 5 percent of the population has received at least one dose of a vaccine, according to a New York Times database.

Mr. Muhyiddin acknowledged such criticism in the interview.

“They can call me ‘stupid prime minister,’ it’s OK,” he said. “I know how difficult it is to manage, but this is our joint responsibility.”

He encouraged people to take responsibility for their behavior and to protect themselves from the virus.

“People ask me, ‘Why not impose a lockdown?’” he said. “I say, you do your own lockdown, a self-lockdown. Just stay at home to be safe and tell others to do the same.”

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