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How many major U-turns has the Malaysian gomen made on SOP? [UPDATED]

[This article was updated on 20 September 2021.]

For over a year, through multiple phases of MCO, EMCO, RMCO, MCO and everything in between, one thing has stayed the same: our family members asking every week whether the SOPs had suddenly changed or not. Which isn’t unreasonable of them, seeing as SOP U-turns have taken a bit of a meme status.

Actual footage of the govt doing U-turns. Img by Tenor GIF

So, we were wondering just how many U-turns there has been since March 2020? and descended into the rabbit hole of MCO news pieces and articles to find out just how many times the Malaysian has backpedaled on MCO SOPs. Do keep in mind that the U-turns we’ve listed here are the ones that have made major news headlines, and don’t include the innumerable SOP revisions that are more obscure, like the ones that apply to various industries behind the scenes. Also, we’ll be updating this list whenever a new U-turn pops up!

Take a seat, put on your seatbelt, and get ready for the many, many U-turns (more like a roundabout at this point) ahead.


September 2021

Total U-turn count so far: 1


  • After months of closure, gym owners and fitness enthusiasts probably started getting geared up when the Youth and Sports Deputy Minister, Ti Lian Ker, said that gyms in Phase 2 and Phase 3 states were allowed to open starting 17 September… but everyone had to put their dumbbells away cos’ the Youth and Sports Minister clarified on 17 September that gyms weren’t allowed to reopen YET. Wait, never mind, they’re allowed to reopen again now.


August 2021

Total U-turn count so far: 2

  • Muhyiddin, now the caretaker PM of our country, said today (19 August) that states under Phase 1 of the National Recovery Plan were finally allowed dine in at eateries, do sports and go to night markets starting 20 August. The state government of Melaka was like “uh uh, no way” and announced on 20 August that the activities mentioned earlier were still forbidden to Malaccans. Just one day later, the Malaccan goverment went “alright, fine”, and allowed said activities to fully vaccinated people.


July 2021

Total U-turn count so far: 6

  • Amazingly, not that many U-turns this month so far. The Sogo and Isetan department stores had a sniff of fresh air after reopening for 2 days, only to be instructed to shut down by the government due to confusion arising from conflicting SOPs on 11 July.
  • Despite entering Phase 2 of the National Recovery Plan, Sarawak’s local government decided to do a 180 on allowing dine-ins at eateries on 13 July due to the rising cases of the Delta variant of COVID-19 in the state.
  • According to the SOP set out by MITI on 7 July, employees in factories and manufacturing facilities were to be tested twice a week for COVID-19. One week later, the SOP was u-turned after employers bising that it costs too much to test all their employees that often.
  • Although this one’s not strictly an SOP, we think the magnitude of the U-turn makes it deserving of a spot on the list. The Third Session of the 14th Parliament which began on 26 July was supposed to be a hybrid meeting, but what ended up happening was a full-scale meeting with no limit on the number of MPs allowed in the House… and no ban on non vaccinated MPs. What a sight to behold.


June 2021

Total U-turn count so far: 12

  • The month kicks off with the government coming under fire after giving factories producing alcohol permission to operate during the first phase of MCO 3.0. Ismail Sabri explained on 1 June that since alcohol isn’t an essential product (we beg to differ), the government agreed that all alcoholic beverage factories should cease operations immediately during the total lockdown.
  • We got to see a rare double U-turn in the MITI letter saga, with Ismail Sabri announcing that MITI letters being valid only until 31 May and permission letters would have to come from respective ministries. Hardly a day later, the PDRM said that officers will accept existing MITI letters until 3 June, with an update soon after that MITI letters or letters from respective ministries are A-OK to be used.
  • It wasn’t made clear from the start, but the government clarified later that small traders with hawker permits were allowed to operate without going through the COVID-19 Intelligent Management System to ease their burdens.
  • The National Security council updated on 2 June that supermarkets, hypermarkets, pharmacies, self-care stores, mini marts, convenience stores and departmental stores are “limited to food, beverages and essential needs sections only”, but made a massive U-turn on 7 June after a series of fines to businesses that sold “non-essential” goods like stationery and hair dye.
  • The government announced a 2-hour shopping limit on 28 May, ostensibly to prevent people from lingering too long in shopping malls or grocery stores, but they didn’t want people rushing to get their essentials all at once after hearing about the time limit, so it was lifted on 6 June… for Ipoh only.


May 2021

Total U-turn count so far: 18

  • On 6 May, the Youth and Sports Ministry banned all sports and recreational activities in public areas in conjunction with MCO. About 24 hours later, the Ministry announced cycling and jogging are permitted in MCO areas. The new MCO also came as a surprise to the nation, as Ismail Sabri announced that there were no plans to put a new MCO in place, but yeah, we know how that turned out.
  • Ismail Sabri caused some confusion on 8 May, saying that all interstate and inter-district travel was not allowed unless accompanied with police permission. Selangor police chief Arjunaidi Mohamed had to clarify a day later that workers only needed letters from MITI and their employers to get past roadblocks.
  • Premises listed under the Hotspot Identification for Dynamic Engagement (HIDE) system had to be closed immediately for three days starting 9 May, but the Sabah Disaster Management Committee allowed three shopping malls in the state listed under the HIDE system to remain open with stricter SOP enforcement.
  • Starting on 12 May, there were supposed to be only three people traveling in each car, but just a day before MCO actually started, the National Security Council released SOPs saying that the number of passengers in a private vehicle may vary according to its capacity.
  • Minister of Science, Technology and Innovation Khairy Jamaluddin declared on 27 May that Putrajaya was looking into adding vaccine choices to the MySejahtera app to the delight of the rakyat. He had to do a double take a few days later, deciding against letting people choose what COVID-19 vaccine they wanted to get.
Why is Malaysia so angry over this line that China drew?


February 2021

Total U-turn count so far: 20

  • The first: following an uproar by the rakyat, eateries were allowed to open until 10pm to let us tapao (was 8pm before).
  • The second U-turn had the Chinese community twisted. For a lot of folks, the original CNY SOPs made reunion dinner into just regular ol’ dinner – reunion dinners were restricted to only members of the same household. That meant if you lived in a different residence away from your family, tough luck. Mere days before the festivities, the government amended the SOPs on 7 February to allow up to 15 people to attend the reunion dinner.


Jan 2021

Total U-turn count so far: 21

  • Malaysian optometrists and opticians collectively breathed a sigh of relief on 14 January when they were allowed to operate starting the second day of MCO 2.0. Reps from the Malaysian Association of Practising Opticians and Association of Malaysian Optometrists plead with the government the day before, saying that 30% of Malaysians wear spectacles, including COVID-19 frontliners.


December 2020

Total U-turn count so far: 22

  • In early March 2020, the government urged all undocumented migrants who attended a tabligh gathering at Sri Petaling Mosque to come forward and get tested for COVID-19. No arrests, pinky promise! A month later, Ismail Sabri stated that all undocumented migrants found in areas under EMCO would be handed over to the Immigration Department and sent to 11 special prisons if existing detention centers couldn’t accommodate them. Very cool.


October 2020

Total U-turn count so far: 25

If you thought that was a lot of U-turns, this month’s gonna be a doozy. Ismail Sabri made multiple appearances this month, and they won’t be his last.

  • On 14 October, Ismail Sabri declared that Selangor, Kuala Lumpur and Putrajaya would be placed under CMCO, but allowed gyms, football fields, futsal courts and badminton courts to reopen a few days later.
  • The National Security Council’s decision of of limiting only two diners per table on 14 October was amended; Ismail Sabri said that four people could now sit at one big table.
  • After initially requiring swab tests for all employees working and living in red zones on 20 October , he “clarified” the next day with a chuckle that only foreign workers had to do that. On the same day, we were told that everyone has to work from home, and the order was rescinded in less than 24 hours.


September 2020

Total U-turn count so far: 26

  • In September 2020, the widely beloved Senior Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob announced that the government was instating a travel ban on countries with more than 150,000 active COVID-19 cases (at the time) beginning 7 September. The travel ban was loosened after a week, and travelers from these counties were able to enter Malaysia after obtaining approval from the Immigration Department. Notably, the US Fortune 500 company Boston Scientific were looking to fly in engineers from Malaysia around the same time and they made some noise, so that’s neat.


August 2020

Total U-turn count so far: 27

  • Human Resources Minister Saravanan Murugan relaxed new rules that prohibited most industries from hiring migrant workers in response to criticism from business groups. There were caveats in place, though. The migrant workers must still have valid work permits (fair enough) and must stick to jobs in the same sector they left (what?).


May 2020

Total U-turn count so far: 29

  • Bank Negara ordered an automatic 6-month moratorium (that means people who took out loans don’t have to repay them in those 6 months) on all bank loans – except credit card balances – on 24 March. A month and change later, BNM earned the ire of the nation with revised terms for hire purchases and fixed-rate Islamic financing, charging borrowers with interest accumulated over the moratorium.
  • The SOPs for Raya released by the National Security Council on 4 May initially limited first day house visits in MCO areas to no more than 15 people at one time, but the PM ramped the numbers up to 20 people max per house on 10 May.


April 2020

Total U-turn count so far: 30

  • On 5 April 2020, Heineken and Carlsberg Malaysia announced that they received approval to start up operations again after putting them on hold for a couple of weeks. One day later, the approval was revoked because they were deemed “unessential”, and alcohol lovers around the country collectively let out a disappointed groan.


Did we miss any U-turns? Let us know in the comments and we’ll add them to the list!

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