MCO extension all but guaranteed?
Have we done enough to lift MCO?
Guess what peeps? We’ve made it to the eighth day of the MCO and have less than a week to go. But will it be extended beyond March? Well, things have improved but let’s not kid ourselves – there doesn’t seem to be any end in sight in the near future.
Let’s look at the numbers. Defence Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob says compliance with the MCO has shown significant improvement, at 95% on the sixth day, which is a damn sight more than the 60% compliance rate in the first few days (though where they get these percentages is anybody’s guess. They could be pulling it from out their asses for all we know).
Police and soldiers held 1,029 roadblocks and checked 163,687 vehicles nationwide on Monday, and also held 2,481 surprise checks and 1,179 public announcements the previous day. They’ve also busted out army drones to monitor compliance, which is kinda cool.
As of yesterday, there were 106 new cases of Covid-19 on our shores, with 45 being linked to the Sri Petaling tabligh gathering cluster. This brings the total number of cases in Malaysia to 1,624, with the Sri Petaling cluster accounting for 978 – roughly 60% of the cases.
64 people are in the ICU, including 27 on ventilators. However, 24 more patients have recovered, bringing to 183 the number of patients who have been discharged. The death toll is now 16 as a 71-year-old, linked indirectly to the tabligh, died yesterday.
So is the drop in the number of new cases yesterday a sign the MCO is effective and helping bring down the infection rate, or “flattening the curve”, as people have taken to calling it? It’ll take a few days of a downward trend to truly say things are going well. And considering we only have a few days before the end of the MCO, the infection rate will have to drop drastically before the National Security Council (NSC) lifts the order.
If analysts at JPMorgan Chase & Co are accurate, don’t expect any lifting of the MCO to happen. They say the worst is yet to come, with Malaysia’s infection rate expected to peak in mid-April at around 6,300 patients (yikes!), lasting a week and a half to two weeks.
There are a lot of other variables out there too which point out to the unlikeliness of the MCO being lifted. For one, people may be hiding their symptoms (such as this well-known couple) or lying to medical professionals about their health. In fact, Health director-general Datuk Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah says it may be time to swap out the carrot for the stick and start to use punishment to enforce measures to prevent the spread of Covid-19. Even the Malaysian Bar has warned that those who withhold information from health authorities could face fines and jail time.
There are also people who traveled back to their hometowns at the start of the MCO who now want to return to the cities – which is bananas cos it defeats the purpose of the MCO. And with payday looming, social distancing becomes a concern yet again as folk go to ATMs to withdraw money.
And last but not least: Sarawak, where five people have died so far, has imposed a 7pm to 7am daily curfew – another sign the MCO has yet to fully show results.
Taken in totality, all of this points really shows that it’s hugely unlikely that the MCO will be lifted. What we hope, though, is that the gomen announces this early. PM Muhyiddin Yassin has said the NSC would likely wait till the last few days of the MCO to make a decision. But do we have to dither that long? Much as we want it to be lifted, it’s quite obvious it’s too soon. Announcing it early would help avoid people rushing to stock up on stuff, and getting into close contact with each other.
What worries us though is that some bright light in government may decide the MCO needn’t be extended. They’ll say it looks like it’s worked, relax the order and just tell everyone to maintain social distancing. It’ll be a populist move that we all know won’t work and in a few weeks we’ll be hit by the real tsunami. Here’s hoping all our worrying is for nothing.
Money, money, money
It’s at times of need and dire circumstances that we see (most) Malaysians band together like at no other time. It’s no different during this crisis.
Everywhere, we see people coming together to help others. Take for example the Taman Tun Dr Ismail residents in KL, who are pooling money to help residents, of the nearby Bukit Kiara longhouses. It wasn’t a lot – just enough for RM50 Hero Market vouchers for each of the 100 families at the longhouses, but at least they did something.
Then we have some 10,000 civil servants in Pahang who have agreed to contribute part of their salaries, voluntarily and according to their means, to help those whose livelihoods are affected by Covid-19 and the MCO. The Pahang State Secretary believes some RM100,000 can be collected in a month.
Corporations are also stepping in, the latest being insurance and takaful business company Etiqa, which says it is contributing RM1 million through Mercy Malaysia for the purchase of ventilators to ease the shortage at hospitals dealing with Covid-19 cases. These ventilators, of course, will be used for all those with breathing difficulties, regardless of race, creed or religion (at least we hope so). Five companies also donated RM5 million to the fight against Covid-19.
But all these good works were kicked out of the limelight, at least for a short while, when a storm began brewing over something Minister in charge of Islamic Affairs Zulkifli Mohamad Al-Bakri allegedly said. According to some media reports, the minister said the Islamic Development Department (Jakim) was launching a fund to help Muslims affected by Covid-19.
People got pissed that he was only talking about helping Muslims at a time like this, with some asking if it was OK for those of other religions to starve. Outspoken lawyer and activist Siti Kassim ranted on her FB account that such actions (and people) were the “real virus” separating and dividing the country, and that she would rather support organisations which help “ALL MALAYSIANS” (her caps, not ours).
Zulkifli later clarified that the fund is for all Malaysians. And he’s right. Listen to the 6-minute press conference yourself. At no point will you hear Zulkifli say this is only for Muslims. It looks like the media got this one wrong. Badly so.
In other Covid-19 finance related news, Bank Negara Malaysia has announced an automatic six-month moratorium on all bank loans, except for credit card balances, for SMEs and individuals. There’s a caveat or two, however. The loans must not be in arrears exceeding 90 days as at April 1, 2020 and, more importantly, your interest will still accrue during this period. Banks are also encouraged to extend the moratorium to corporate players if they have proven to be a viable investment in the past.
Meanwhile, more on the gomen’s decision to allow RM500 withdrawals a month from EPF for those under 55 for the next year. This article takes a look at EPF annual statements which show that some 2.8 million Malaysians don’t have enough money in their Account 2 to cover that amount – meaning the gomen’s decision just doesn’t help at all.
On the flip side, we have the Malay Chambers of Commerce Malaysia and Malay Economic Action Council urging the government to exempt employers from making EPF and Socso contributions for six months. Look, we know employers are also hard hit by Covid-19, but how is it fair that employees have to bear the consequences?
Meanwhile, Amanah Youth has suggested the gomen provide RM1,500 per family per month to help ease their burden. They say this was the minimum amount needed to meet basic needs such as food, transportation and utility bills, and could be easily provided for by redistributing the 2020 Budget, taking funds from less critical ministries to other, more critical ones, like the Health Ministry. Not a bad idea, that.
Oh, and we thought we’d throw this in here. A 37-year-old clerk lost RM54,000 in an online scam on March 15 when she ordered and paid for 3,364 boxes of face masks. There are just so many questions arising from this little piece of incredible news. Why was she buying so many face masks? Is she a hoarder, or worse still, attempting to sell them for a profit, which, BTW, is illegal? Does she regularly make such huge deposits for online purchases? Was the entire sum of money hers? We have no clue but we sure as hell would like to know.
Covid-19 bits and bobs
And here’s the rest of the Covid news from yesterday:
- International Trade and Industry Minister Azmin Ali has been picked to head a task force set up to ensure the nation’s food supply chain is not disrupted. The task force, which will include the Agriculture and Food Industries Ministry and the Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs Ministry, will not only ensure there is sufficient food but that the entire logistics chain is functioning to ensure food can be delivered without obstruction.
- Malaysia is in talks with China to send in their medical experts to help the nation’s frontliners in the fight against Covid-19.
- The Health DG has cautioned against the use of Covid-19 rapid test kits that can be purchased on the market as many of these differed from the ones used by the Health Ministry.
- He also says those showing symptoms of Covid-19 should visit hospitals early on as this would offer the best chances of survival.
- A day after a picture of exhausted medical workers lying on the floor of a hospital went viral, we have this article of healthcare professionals recounting their Covid-19 experiences. Is it any wonder why these heroes are exhausted?
“If we don't have each other, we go crazy with loneliness. When we do, we go crazy with togetherness.”
- Stephen King -
IN INTERNATIONAL NEWS
- In perhaps the biggest international Covid-19 related news of the day, the International Olympic Committee and the Tokyo Olympics organising committee have (finally) decided to postpone the 2020 Olympics by a year. You can read the joint statement released by both organisations here. Athletes and officials have reacted positively to the news, saying it’s the right decision. However, an organisation representing 85,000 athletes from around the world says there needs to be a change in the IOC to ensure decision-making is more inclusive as the delay in postponing the games made the committee “look naive”. Meanwhile, major corporate sponsors of the Tokyo Olympics say they will stand by the games and wouldn’t seek a return of billions of dollars they had already committed.
- Indian PM Narendra Modi has put the country of 1.3 billion people into full lockdown for 21 days after Covid-19 began rearing its ugly head in small villages. With 482 cases and nine deaths, Modi is taking no chances, banning people from leaving their homes during the lockdown.
- The global stats for Covid-19 now stands at 385,652 cases as of 4.21am today, with 17,699 deaths and 99,131 recoveries. But with the number of cases in Hubei province on a steady decline for some time now, China has announced it plans to lift its lockdown by April 8.
- In other parts of the globe, however, things are getting worse. Italy’s death toll has shot back up, reporting 743 new deaths in a day, taking the total to 6,820, just over double that of mainland China’s 3,277, while France has become the fifth country to report a death toll of more than 1,000. A government body dealing with the outbreak there says the 15-day national lockdown imposed last week should last at least six weeks.
- Despite the fact that many quarters are calling for the US to go into a lockdown, President Donald Trump seems to be bucking the trend yet again, claiming a lockdown would cost the US thousands of lives. And as usual, The Donald cites no evidence for his statement.
- The International Monetary Fund says the Covid-19 outbreak will cause a global recession in 2020 that will be worse than the one triggered by the global financial crisis of 2008-09, but there will be a recovery in 2021.
- And last but not least, Pornhub has given the workers on the frontlines of New York’s Covid-19 battle 50,000 free face masks – and free access to its library of porn.