On 12 January 2021, King Sultan Abdullah declared a nationwide state of emergency for Malaysia that will last until 1 August, or until the recent spike in COVID-19 infections begins to decline. The state of emergency allows the government to enact emergency laws without consulting parliament and to delegate responsibilities to another entity if deemed necessary. The state of emergency comes a day after the prime minister announced Movement Control Orders (MCOs) for the states of Johor, Melaka, Selangor, Penang and Sabah as well as the Federal Territories of Kuala Lumpur, Putrajaya and Labuan during 13-26 January. The states of Perlis and most of Sarawak are under a recovery MCO and three Sarawak districts of Kuching, Miri and Sibu along with the states of Pahang, Perak, Negri Sembilan, Kedah, Terengganu and Kelantan are under a conditional MCO.

Under the MCO in Kuala Lumpur, Putrajaya, Labuan, Penang, Selangor, Melaka, Johor and Sabah residents are prohibited from traveling beyond 10 km (6.2 mi) of their home, interstate travel is prohibited, social activities such as weddings and public prayers are banned, and restaurants must only offer takeout services. Essential businesses such as grocery stores, banks, medical facilities may operate normally, while businesses involved in manufacturing, construction, trade and agriculture may continue to operate but at reduced capacity. Violators of the order are subject to a 1,000 Malaysian ringgit (250 U.S. dollar) fine.