KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — Malaysia’s new prime minister missed the swearing-in ceremony of his new government on Monday after coming into contact with someone infected with COVID-19, his office said.
Ismail Sabri Yaakob has begun self-isolating and will virtually attend Tuesday’s official National Day celebrations, according to a statement from his office. It did not say whom he came in contact with, whether he was tested and how long he would remain in self-isolation.
Ismail took office Aug. 21 amid public anger over the previous government’s failure to control a raging pandemic. Daily cases have soared above 20,000 since Aug. 5, with total infections surpassing 1.7 million. Vaccinations are moving rapidly, with 62% of the adult population fully inoculated.
His predecessor, Muhyiddin Yassin, resigned on Aug. 16 after less than 18 months in office as infighting in his coalition cost him majority support in Parliament.
Ismail, 61, was Muhyiddin’s deputy, and his appointment to lead the government by Malaysia’s king essentially returned the same governing coalition to power. It also returned the premiership to Ismail’s party, the United Malays National Organization, which has led the country since independence from Britain in 1957 but was ousted in 2018 elections amid a multibillion-dollar financial scandal.
Ismail has been criticized for largely reappointing ministers from the previous Cabinet which failed to curb the pandemic despite a seven-month state of emergency and a lockdown since June.
A total of 31 ministers and 38 deputy ministers took their oaths of office at the palace Monday. Ismail did not name a deputy but retained four senior ministerial posts which were created by Muhyiddin to keep factions in his Malay-majority government happy.
Many people, however, applauded the appointment of popular former Science Minister Khairy Jamaluddin — who was in charge of the vaccination program — as the new health minister.
Malaysia’s confirmed deaths from COVID-19 have risen above 16,000.
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