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EXPLAINED: Why White Flags Are Going Up In Malaysia As Country Reels Under Surge In Covid-19 Cases, Lockdown

File photo of government personnel distribute essential supplies in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. (AP)

File photo of government personnel distribute essential supplies in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. (AP)

As the country reels under a surge of second wave cases, civil society is coming forward to provide relief to those who need it

Distress signals put out by households in Malaysia have caught the attention of the world as people struggle to cope amid lockdowns imposed during a surge in cases. The white flag campaign, or #benderaputih, in Malaysia again shows how civil society and good Samaritans have come forward to provide crucial help when government resources have appeared stretched.

What Is The White Flag Movement?

Malaysia imposed a strict lockdown on June 1 in response to a sudden rise in Covid-19 cases. According to reports, restrictions in and around capital Kuala Lumpur included a strict curfew against leaving home between 8 pm and 8 am in affected areas except for emergencies. Roads in affected areas were closed and all entry and exit points were guarded by police.

That meant people in poorer neighbourhoods suffered from a severe loss in income and, as a month of such strict measures was followed by an announcement that the curbs would continue, messages started appearing on social media of families struggling to secure the basic essentials for survival.


The white flag campaign gained attention on social media in the first week of July with mostly people from low income families reaching out for help. Using Facebook and other social media platforms, civil society volunteers are putting out details of people who have sought help so that they can be connected with those who have come forward to offer a helping hand, including buinesses and celebrities.

News agency Reuters reported how neighbours dropped food and essential items at the door o a 73-year-old woman who had hung a piece of white cloth outside her window.

When Is The Lockdown Going To End In Malaysia?

While the restrictions were to have been eased at the end of June, Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin announced that curbs will continue until daily cases fell to below 4,000 and at least 10 per cent of the population was inoculated.

The country has also been under a state of emergency since January in view of the pandemic, and the suspension of the national legislature and political activities has given rise to a black flag movement, too, calling for PM Yassin to step down. According to BBC, #benderaHitam, or black flag, was trending on Malaysian Twitter last week with a post from opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim containing three black flag emojis having been retweeted thousands of times.

What Is The Covid Situation In Malaysia?

Malaysia, a country of about 32 million people, has had a little under 8 lakh total cases till July 6. After the first wave peak of under 5,000 daily cases (7-day rolling average) in early February, the country saw frsh infections drop to less than 1,500 in late March-early April. However, by the third week of May, daily cases had crossed 5,000 and by June 1, when the fresh restrictions were announced, the country was recording more than 7,500 new cases every day. While the lockdown seemed to have with the daily case load sliding to a little over 5,00 cases by the end of June, the beginning of July brought another uptick. On July 6, Malaysia added 6,700 cases.

The country has recorded more than 5,600 Covid deaths and, while still comparatively low, daily fatalities have risen steadily from less than 20 in the first wave to a little less than 100 during the second wave. Similar to infections, daily deaths did decline at the end of June but have again registered an increase.

What’s The Vaccination Status?

Till July 7, about 9.4 per cent of the eligible population in Malaysia had received both shots of the vaccine while more than a fifth of the people had received at least one shot.

The country has approved six Covid-19 vaccines — the ones made by the US-based Pfizer-BioNTech, the Chinese CanSino and Sinovac shots, the UK’s Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine and the shot by the US-based Johnson and Johnson.

What’s The State Of The Economy?

The Malaysian GDP contracted by 5.6 per cent last year but was reported to have begun a recovery in the first quarter of 2021 before the fresh surge in cases prompted the imposition of the latest curbs.

The government had reportedly launched a relief package of more than $70 billion last year and announced fresh aid of more than $30 billion last week as it extended the Covid-19 curbs.

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first published:July 09, 2021, 11:25 IST