Coronavirus ‘ghost’ haunts city streets to keep people inside in Malaysia

Muhammad Urabil Alias is shown in a ghost costume in Malaysia on March 28, 2020. Muhammad Urabil Alias/Facebook

If the novel coronavirus doesn’t get you in Malaysia, the ghost will.

A Malaysian man is moonlighting as a ghost during the COVID-19 lockdown in Terengganu in an effort to scare superstitious citizens into obeying government orders to stay indoors.

Muhammad Urabil Alias, 38, says the whole thing started as a prank to keep teenagers from breaking the lockdown, but it’s taken on a life of its own since a photo of him in costume went viral.

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The image shows Urabil dressed in a long, flowing white robe with fake white hair and a long white beard. The costume is meant to make him look like a Malaysian ghost known as a “pontianak,” although he also resembles pop-culture representations of God.

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“Despite the [lockdown] order, there were still many who came out at night so I decided to post the photos on Facebook,” Urabil told the Harian Metro outlet in Malaysia. “When I uploaded the pictures on Facebook, everyone panicked and was afraid to go out at night.”

He added that his wife took the original photos of him in the costume, which he’s owned for years.

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The photo earned Urabil thousands of reactions online and an unexpected visit from local police.

“I thought that the men in blue, dressed in their full police gear, had wanted to arrest me,” Urabil told the New Straits Times.

But the police weren’t there to arrest him. Instead, they thanked him and asked him to don the costume again.

Urabil complied and met the officers outside, where he posed for a second set of photos with police.

“Before, this ghost was scaring people,” Urabil wrote on Facebook. “Today, this ghost is scared.”

Muhammad Urabil Alias poses with local police in Terengganu, Malaysia on March 31, 2020. Muhammad Urabil Alias/Facebook

Urabil says the stunt appears to have worked on people in his neighbourhood, as he hasn’t seen nearly as many teenagers outside.

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He added in a separate post that he’s sorry if the photo scared anybody, but he’s glad he could have a “positive effect” on some during a scary time for the world.

Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:

Health officials caution against all international travel. Returning travellers are legally obligated to self-isolate for 14 days, beginning March 26, in case they develop symptoms and to prevent spreading the virus to others. Some provinces and territories have also implemented additional recommendations or enforcement measures to ensure those returning to the area self-isolate.

Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.

To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. They also recommend minimizing contact with others, staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out.

For full COVID-19 coverage from Global News, click here.

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