Palm oil operations in six districts of Sabah ­– Malaysia’s largest palm producing state – will remain closed as part of coronavirus containment measures, Sabah Chief Minister Shafie Apdal said on 8 April.

Sabah produced around 25% of Malaysia’s palm oil and had shut some plantations and mills until 14 April after several palm estate workers tested positive for COVID-19, Reuters wrote.

Shafie said the first priority of the state was to save lives and he would only look at challenges facing businesses, factories and plantations after that.

“I want the facts from the health ministry and police that the factories are safe to operate.”

Plantation groups such as Sime Darby Plantations and FGV Holdings had been appealing to the state government to re-open operations unaffected by COVID-19, with the Malaysian Palm Oil Association warning that the industry risked losing 500,000 tonnes of crop, valued at 430M ringgit (US$99M), from a 14-day closure, Reuters reported.

Shafie said officials would spend the week looking into appeals from palm companies and would prepare guidelines for those allowed to resume operations.

As of 9 April, Malaysia had 4,119 recorded cases of COVID-19, the highest in Southeast Asia.