As the country grapples with a surge in COVID-19 cases linked to prison clusters and the Sabah state election held last month, the Prisons Department has announced several "drastic" measures to overcome the problem.

In a statement released last night, the department's director-general Zulkifli Omar said this include displacing light drug offenders to national service camps, and granting early release to prisoners who have less than three months left to serve in their sentence.

"At the moment, the number of active COVID-19 cases among prison inmates and staff nationwide stands at 1,126 cases - up 453 cases from yesterday's (Monday's) 673 cases," he said, adding that besides the two prisons in Sabah and Kedah, COVID-19 cases have also been recorded at prisons in Penang, Selangor, and a correctional center in Perak.

The additional "drastic" measures taken to prevent overcrowding in prisons include taking light drug offenders out of prisons and placing them at National Service Training Camps (PLKN) which have been gazetted as temporary prisons. These camps could accommodate between 2,300 and 2,800 prisoners.

"More than 11,000 inmates who have been sentenced to less than one year in prison, and have less than three months to serve, will be considered to be freed under the Release On Licence (ROL) scheme," said Zulkifli.

"These inmates (eligible for ROL), however, must pass stringent criteria set beforehand, including testing negative for the coronavirus," he added.

The DG further urged the public to remain calm as the department was abiding with the SOPs set by the Health Department, and the situation was under control.

Malaysia yesterday recorded a record-high of 691 new COVID-19 cases, and four deaths, including that of a one-year-old.

The current number of infections and deaths in the country stands at 13,504, and 141, respectively. Globally, the coronavirus has infected more than 36 million people and killed over a million.

Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, in a televised special address last night, said the government will not implement another Movement Control Order (MCO), as doing so could cause the country's social system and economy to collapse.

The government will instead enforce the Targeted Enhanced Movement Control Order (TEMCO) in areas with high cases of COVID-19, so that economic and social activities in other areas can proceed normally, he said.

Muhyiddin, in his address, also dismissed claims that officials were treated differently when it comes to enforcing quarantine compliance.

"I myself am under home quarantine after chairing a meeting attended by a COVID-19 positive minister.

"As the prime minister, I’m not exempted from the SOPs [standard operating procedures] set by the Health Ministry."

Muhyiddin, as well as 13 other members of his cabinet - six ministers and seven deputies, are under home quarantine after coming into contact with Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department (Religious Affairs) Zulkifli Mohamad Al-Bakri, who has tested COVID-19 positive, at a recent during a recent special meeting to discuss the pandemic.

Photo source: Astro Awani