UK tabloid The Sun confirmed the news today, publishing a statement from the band's management:
"Zayn has been signed off with stress and is flying back to the UK to recuperate. The band wish him well and will continue with their performances in Manila and Jakarta."
There's no news yet about when Malik will rejoin the group - the "Best Song Ever" hitmakers have a stop in Johannesburg on March 28th, so we'll see if he's back with his bandmates by then. However, all things considered, that's only three days after the final performance that he's been officially signed off from, so it seems unlikely.
A source told The Sun that the amount of media scrutiny Zayn receives is to blame for his untimely departure:
"Zayn finds it tougher than the rest of his band-mates dealing with fame. Having his every movement scrutinised causes great anxiety and the pictures which surfaced with the fan yesterday was the final straw. He did nothing wrong but the amount of criticism he received was simply too much. He needs to get away."
Whilst the news doesn't necessarily indicate a split in the near future, Malik's thin skinned approach to fame isn't promising. Receiving far less tabloid attention than a lot of his contemporaries and being unable to deal with it doesn't speak wonders for his state of mind and perhaps it's just a matter of time before he decides to take a far more extended hiatus from the spotlight.
Hopefully should Zayn choose to leave the band, the rest of One Direction won't decide to soldier on without him. In a group where the actual members account for far more of their appeal than the music, one member fewer - or God forbid, a line-up change - could end badly for the group. Plus, they're one of the only manufactured acts in recent memory where you could imagine almost every member forging a successful career for themselves after they disband.
One Direction themselves have yet to make any statement.
What do you think? Is Zayn about to quit? Should they carry on without him? Do you really care? Sound off in Exhale.