With coronavirus cases surging in Malaysia to their highest levels since the pandemic began, the prime minister, Muhyiddin Yassin, has placed himself in quarantine and acknowledged that a recent election campaign was one of the causes of the spike.
In an address to the nation on Wednesday, Mr. Muhyiddin stopped short of calling for a renewed lockdown. But casting himself as the nation’s “Abah,” or daddy, he said he would have to “use the rotan,” or cane, on those who violate mask and social-distancing rules. Caning miscreants is a well-known punishment in Malaysia.
The country of 32 million people, which by June had largely succeeded in containing the virus, reported 691 new cases on Tuesday and 432 the day before, its two highest daily totals. More than 10 percent of the country’s total number of cases have been reported in the past three days.
The prime minister went into quarantine on Monday after attending a cabinet meeting with his religious affairs minister, Zulkifli Mohamad Al-Bakri, who later tested positive for the virus. More than a dozen other cabinet members and top officials who attended the meeting also went into quarantine.
It was the second round of isolation for Mr. Muhyiddin, a cancer survivor, who went into quarantine in May after meeting with another official who later tested positive.
The Sept. 26 election in Sabah State, on Borneo Island, became the nexus for contagion as it drew people together for the campaign, including politicians and cabinet members allied with Mr. Muhyiddin who traveled to the state from Peninsular Malaysia.
Despite Sabah’s higher rate of infection, many of those returning to Peninsular Malaysia did not quarantine on their return. Some, including Mr. Zulkifli, traveled widely and met with numerous people in the days after.
“I admit the campaigning for Sabah elections is among the reasons for the recent spike of cases,” Mr. Muhyiddin said in a speech broadcast from his home.
Managing the coronavirus had been a bright spot for Mr. Muhyiddin, whose hold on power has been tenuous.
He was named prime minister in March by Malaysia’s king, Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah, without a vote from Parliament, and faces pressure from the opposition leader, Anwar Ibrahim, who claims to have the backing of a majority of Parliament.