A YEAR ago today, Malaysia reported its first Covid-19 cases, all of them imported.

Twelve months on, the country has tallied just over 180,000 infections, while local transmissions have long since outpaced imported cases.

Deaths from the coronavirus, mostly of the elderly with comorbidities, have totalled 667. The youngest fatality so far is a one-year-old girl.

After successfully flattening the curve following the second wave of the pandemic last year, Malaysia is now on its third wave and second lockdown, while cases peak at above 3,000 new infections daily with no abatement in sight.

But Parliament and elections are also suspended under the emergency – a point of criticism against the government.

In just over a year since the virus emerged in Wuhan, China, more than 96 million people have been infected the world over and more than two million have died.

While vaccines are being rolled out after quicker-than-usual clinical trial periods, and given emergency approvals by governments, scientists have yet to reach conclusive findings on the virus’ origins.

The pneumonia-like disease is said to have originated from a Wuhan seafood market which sold exotic animals. Whether the virus began inside or outside China’s borders, which animal was the vector, and how the virus jumped to humans, are factors still unknown.

While infections of a “mystery virus outbreak” were reported in November and December 2019 in Wuhan, the first known death from the virus was on January 9, 2020.

The Malaysian Insight looks back in time on key events of the pandemic in Malaysia in the past year.


January 24
The first three cases of what was then known as the novel coronavirus are confirmed on Malaysian soil. The following day, they are revealed to be three Chinese nationals from Wuhan, who entered the country from Singapore through Johor Baru.

The three are the close relatives of a 66-year-old Chinese national who became the first confirmed case in Singapore.

The three are the person’s 65-year-old wife and grandsons, aged 11 and 2. All are treated at the Sg Buloh Hospital.

January 26
The government holds its first meeting on the coronavirus involving the National Disaster Management Agency (Nadma) and health authorities, police and Immigration Department, as well as the ministers or deputy ministers of the Foreign Affairs, Communications and Multimedia, and Tourism ministries.

January 27
Malaysia decides to temporarily bar Chinese nationals from the Hubei province, where Wuhan is the capital, from entering Malaysia.

February 3
Malaysia its sends first rescue mission flight to repatriate Malaysian citizens in Wuhan.

February 4
Malaysia reports another imported case, involving a citizen – a 41-year-old from Selangor who tested positive for the novel coronavirus after returning from a six-day trip to Singapore from January 16 to 22.

February 6
Malaysia reports its first case from local transmission after the sister of the February 4 case also tests positive.

February 7
The travel ban is extended to all Chinese provinces that are under lockdown. By this date, 14 cases of the novel coronavirus have been detected in Malaysia, four whom are citizens.

In the following week, another case of a cruise ship passenger is detected through screening upon arrival at KLIA. The passenger, an American woman, had flown in from Cambodia where the ship docked. At this point, Malaysia’s borders are still open to other travellers.

February 16
Cruise ships coming from or which transited in China are banned from docking in Malaysian waters.

February 24
The Pakatan Harapan government collapses after the resignation of Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad following defections by MPs from his party Bersatu and PKR.

February 27
Dr Mahathir, who is appointed as interim prime minister by the Yang di-Pertuan Agong announces a RM20 billion economic stimulus package to mitigate the effects of Covid-19.

March 1
Dr Mahathir does not survive efforts to shore up enough MPs to support him, and Muhyiddin Yassin sworn in as Malaysia’s eighth prime minister.

March 11
The “Tabligh cluster”, named after a religious gathering held at the end of February at the Sri Petaling Mosque, reports its first Covid-19 case. This cluster will later become the country’s largest cluster of the second wave.

The World Health Organisation declares Covid-19 a pandemic.

March 16
Little over a two weeks after taking office, new Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin announces a two week movement control order (MCO) to come into effect on March 18 until March 31.

Under the MCO, borders are closed and international arrivals are restricted. All business, offices and schools are closed, while all religious, educational, leisure and any type of gathering are banned to curb the spread of the virus. People cannot leave their homes except for a head of household to buy food and medicines. Even outdoor exercise is not allowed.

March 17
Malaysia reports its first Covid-19 death, in Sarawak. The deceased is a 60-year-old pastor from the Emmanuel Baptist Church, Kuching, who died at the Sarawak General Hospital.

March 18
Malaysia goes into lockdown as the MCO begins.

March 20
Caseload exceeds 1,000. Health Director-General Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah, who has begun holding daily press conferences on the Covid-19 situation, says that 15 health workers are also infected.

March 27
Muhyiddin announces an economic stimulus package, dubbed Prihatin, worth RM250 billion.

The enhanced movement-control order (EMCO) is introduced in certain areas which have seen a significant spike in the number of Covid-19 cases.

April 6
Muhyiddin Yassin announces an extra RM10 billion, called Prihatin-Plus, to help small and medium enterprises (SME) and micro-organisations mitigate economic challenges due to Covid-19.

April 10
The MCO is extended to April 28.

April 15
Malaysia records fewer than 100 cases for the first time in a month.

April 21
The exhibition halls at Malaysia Agro Exposition Park Serdang (MAEPS) which have been converted into a Low-Risk Patient Quarantine and Treatment Centre for Covid-19 cases, receives its first patient.

May 1
The Immigration Department conducts a raid on residential buildings in the Masjid India area in Kuala Lumpur to round up undocumented workers, with claims by some observers that women and children are also been hauled up. The government is later criticised for reneging on its promise not to pursue undocumented migrants so as to encourage them to come forward for Covid-19 testing.

May 4
After nearly two months under lockdown, eased restrictions under the Conditional MCO begins.

June 4
New record of 277 cases are reported. Of this, 271 involve foreigners, all of whom but one are detainees at the Bukit Jalil Immigration Detention Centre.

June 5
Muhyiddin announces another economic rescue package, worth RM35 billion, called Penjana.

June 9
Further easing of movement restrictions begin under the Recovery MCO. Interstate travel and domestic tourism are allowed. Eating out is also allowed but with physical-distancing, temperature checks and recording of personal details.

July 8
The Tabligh cluster is declared inactive after a 28-day surveillance period. At the time, it is the country’s largest Covid-19 cluster, with 3,375 positive cases and 34 deaths.

July 28
After enjoying mostly single-digit and low double-digits in daily new infections since early July, 39 new Covid-19 cases are reported today, including the index case for the Sivagangga cluster in Kedah. The index case is the owner of a nasi kandar restaurant in Kubang Pasu who violated quarantine orders and went to his shop wearing his pink wristband meant for patients under quarantine.

August 14
Reeling from the impact of the first MCO, Malaysia records its worst gross domestic product (GDP) growth since the 1997/98 Asian Financial Crisis with an economic contraction of 17.1% in the second quarter of 2020.

August 16
A virus strain that infects and spreads more swiftly is detected in Malaysia. Dr Noor Hisham said the D614G mutation was found in tests on samples from positive cases in the Sivagangga and Ulu Tiram clusters.

September 1
The Benteng Lahad Datu prison cluster in Sabah is detected, and marks the beginning of the spike in new cases in Sabah, which is to hold state elections later in the month.

September 22
Sabah logs 625 infections from seven clusters.

September 23
Muhyiddin announces the RM10 billion Kita Prihatin package.

September 26
Sabahans vote in the 16th state elections.

The Health Ministry announces compulsory Covid-19 screening upon arrival for individuals travelling from Sabah to the peninsula, including home quarantine until their test results are confirmed.

October 1

The Health Ministry confirms that a few politicians who went to Sabah for the state elections have tested positive for Covid-19 but withholds their identities on the basis of patient confidentiality.

At least six ministers are also under home quarantine, including Housing and Local Government Minister Zuraida Kamaruddin.

October 3
Deputy Environment and Water Minister Dr Ahmad Masrizal Muhammad tests positive for the virus.

Bukit Aman Management Department director Ramli Din says more than 700 police personnel are currently undergoing quarantine after being flown to Sabah to assist in the state elections.

October 5
Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Zulkifli Mohamad al-Bakri confirms that he is Covid-19 positive.

All ministers and deputies are instructed to get tested after attending a meeting on October 3 with Zulkifli. Muhyiddin and Dr Noor Hisham were also at the meeting, which involved the National Security Council. The Prime Minister and Health DG both undergo self-quarantine.

October 6

Muhyiddin admits that the Sabah elections is one of the reasons why the number of Covid-19 cases are now in the triple digits.

October 13
CMCO begins in Sabah.

October 14
Klang Valley, Selangor and Putrajaya are placed under CMCO after an upsurge in cases.

November 6
Government allocates RM3 billion under Budget 2021 for Covid-19 vaccine procurement.

November 16
Enhanced movement-control order (EMCO) is enforced at the Top Glove workers’ dormitory in Klang following the discovery of the Teratai cluster.

November 25
Teratai cluster overtakes the Tabligh cluster to become the country’s largest Covid-19 cluster after reporting a total of 4,036 infections.

November 27
Putrajaya inks vaccine deal with Pfizer-Inc.

December 25
The A701V mutation, first detected in the Benteng Lahad Datu prison cluster, has by now spread to a vast majority of Covid-19 clusters in the peninsula. It was also detected in the Teratai cluster which has by now infected more than 6,000 people.

December 28
Putrajaya inks vaccine deal with AstraZeneca.

January 6
Public healthcare system reaches breaking point and Dr Noor Hisham says government is looking at new strategies to fight the pandemic. There are more than 25,000 active Covid-19 cases at this point, after recording new daily infections the 1,000s and 2,000s since mid-November.

January 12
A second MCO is imposed in six states from January 13 to 26 as health resources reach breaking point and front-liners burn out