We’ve gone back to triple-digit daily increases in new Covid-19 cases thanks in large part to new clusters at three Immigration detention depots. However, the government is insistent that we should be grateful for raids on undocumented foreigners.

In other news, Covid-19 patients will now be discharged from hospital after 14 days following new guidelines from the World Health Organization; there are no more restrictions to the number of people allowed in a vehicle, so long as they’re from the same family; doctors are calling a new standard operating procedure for childcare centres discriminatory against frontliners; and, a political party has come up with a brilliant (sarcasm mode: on) solution to the problem of drink driving.

Numbers back up to three digits

We are getting this all wrong

After 21 days of recording only double-digit increases in new Covid-19 cases and an ever-increasing recovery rate, the country has now seen two straight days of more than a hundred people testing positive for the virus.
 
The latest spike comes after a number of cases were detected at the Bukit Jalil immigration depot last week, prompting health authorities to conduct tests at other centres. These tests translated to an increase of 172 cases on Monday, comprising 159 foreigners, of which 112 were undocumented workers. And yesterday, the number of new daily cases was at 187, including 155 new infections at the Bukit Jalil facility, bringing the total number of detainees infected by Covid-19 there to 281!
 
Long story short, the Bukit Jalil depot is now the second largest cluster in the country. The largest, of course, is the Sri Petaling tabligh cluster, which recorded 3,369 cases.
 
The Health Ministry has been quick to point out, of course, that the latest spike in cases is not due to the Hari Raya celebrations, nor interstate travel. Of course, it isn’t. Covid-19’s two-week incubation period means it’s still too early to tell whether we will see an increase in cases due to fools breaking Hari Raya standard operating procedure (SOP) or travelling between states.
 
No, the increase in cases we’re seeing now is among foreigners, and not just those at Immigration facilities. A number of clusters at construction sites at construction sites have been detected too!
 
According to the Malaysian Trades Union Congress, the government’s failure to regulate living quarters for foreign workers has contributed to the situation, with the Malaysian Medical Association (MMA) adding that there is no point in conducting Covid-19 tests if migrant workers are allowed to return to cramped living conditions. 
 
Eager to stem the problem, the government now says the Human Resources Ministry will soon announce a set of SOPs for construction companies in regards to employee housing. All well and good, of course. Though a little late, wouldn’t you say?
 
Also, the new SOPs will hardly address the biggest problem: the rise in cases at Immigration detention depots.
 
If you recall, many NGOs had spoken out against the Immigration Department raids on undocumented foreigners, saying this would cause them to go into hiding instead of coming forward to get themselves tested for Covid-19. What’s more, they warned that detaining them at depots (where we’re sure they also faced with cramped quarters) could also result in the virus spreading easily, even if the spread is within the centres.
 
Those fears have, of course, been proven right.
 
Unfortunately, Senior Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob is still championing the detention of undocumented workers, and even saying we should be grateful for it! He also says that the focus will now be on deporting undocumented foreigners who are free of Covid-19 as well increasing capacity at hospitals to treat those who test positive.
 
In any case, the Health Ministry says it is mulling conducting tests at all detention facilities, including prisons. It also says that staff at the three Immigration facilities where cases have been detected will be tested as well. We don’t understand why the ministry is still mulling the idea. Nor do we understand why staff at these detention facilities haven’t been tested yet, considering they would surely have been exposed if the virus is lingering in the air there.

Incidentally, despite the spike in cases these past couple of say, there have been, thankfully, no further deaths.

Why change now?

Two other big pieces of news were announced by the gomen yesterday, and we’re a bit concerned with the first and a lot concerned about the second.
 
The most important one is that those infected with Covid-19 will now be discharged after 14 days as the latest World Health Organization (WHO) report states that there was a zero infectivity rate after that period. To put it plainly, the WHO says that after 14 days, even if someone is still suffering from Covid-19, he or she can’t infect others. So, they’ll be discharged and instead, asked to undergo quarantine for another 14 days at home. 
 
Now, while this may be good news for people like national hammer thrower Jackie Wong, who has been in hospital since March 16, it raises a number of questions. Let’s just focus on the biggest one. If Malaysia’s protocols thus far have yielded results better than the global average, why change it now just because the WHO says so? It’s not like we have an issue with overcrowding in hospitals, given that our recovery rate is upwards of 80%. 
 
Also, we feel it’s just common sense to carry on with our present protocol of discharging patients only after they test negative twice, considering that it’s been working so well compared to many other countries. But hey, the WHO should know better … right?
 
The second bit of news is that the four-people-per-vehicle ruling will be relaxed as of today. Meaning there will no longer be a limit on the number of people allowed in a vehicle, although all of them still have to be from the same family. 
 
Question is: is it too early for such relaxation? Also, where exactly could families be needing to head to together? Even without such leeway, folks are violating the Conditional Movement Control Order (CMCO). So what indeed is gonna happen now?
 
After all, we already have a case of people attending a wedding at a temple and folks violating Raya visiting regulations as well as one case where a civil servant was caught altering an interstate travel letter and a bunch of geniuses were found taking photographs of lotus flowers at a catchment area in Melaka.
 
Elsewhere, the Health Ministry is still administering the antimalarial drug hydroxychloroquine to Covid-19 patients despite WHO saying it has suspended trials of the drug which United States President Donald Trump has been trumpeting as a miracle treatment of the virus (as if that wasn’t reason enough for anyone to stop taking it). The WHO says it’s concerned about the drug’s side effects, though Health Director-General Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah says we’ve been cautious when administering hydroxychloroquine and are taking steps to mitigate the side effects. For the record, it was previously reported that the drug was being used here to good effect and was seen to be helping reduce the chances of patients needing to be treated in intensive care.

It's just a precaution, doc

One big thread concerning Covid-19 over the long weekend was a new policy on children of frontliners at childcare centres.
 
On Saturday, 250 paediatricians, supported by the Malaysian Paediatric Association, signed a letter of protest after the Women, Family and Community Development Ministry made it mandatory for childcare centres to separate children of frontliners from other kids. The MPA said it was a slap in the face of frontliners. The next day, the MMA concurred, calling it a discriminatory practice and that the Health Ministry should have been consulted. 
 
Is it a discriminatory practice though, or is it a precautionary measure? Well, Health D-G Dr Noor Hisham doesn’t think it’s discriminatory at all.
 
Noor Hisham says it’s merely a precautionary measure meant to prevent infections among children at childcare centres and nurseries, considering that frontliners are in the high-risk group as far as infections are concerned and could easily pass it on to their children. The special adviser to the Prime Minister on public health matters, Dr Jemilah Mahmood, concurred, adding that the SOP (which is still under study, mind you) is in line with practices overseas
 
Anyhoo, a number of other things Covid-related came out over the past few days; some of the more relevant and/or interesting things here:
 

  • PM Muhyiddin Yassin reiterated his call for everyone to abide by CMCO regulations in his Aidilfitri message, saying this was the only way the order could be lifted.
     
  • Finance Minister Tengku Zafrul Abdul Aziz has asked banks to forego accrued interests on hire-purchase loans and profits on fixed-rate Islamic financing during the six-month loan moratorium. We couldn’t support this more!
     
  • University students, meanwhile, are asking for lower tuition fees as classes are now being conducted online. Makes sense, no? 
     
  • Hairdressers, who are still unable to operate and have had zero income since the beginning of the MCO in March, are asking Bank Negara Malaysia to ease loan regulations
     
  • Several luxury hotels in Kuala Lumpur are being put up for sale as financial woes from the Covid-19 pandemic continue. And if that isn’t proof enough of how the tourism and hotel industries are being hit, that mega Malaysian enterprise called Genting Malaysia Bhd is set to undergo a restructuring exercise which will include separation schemes for employees. 
     
  • Here’s an indication of one industry which has truly profited from the pandemic, though. Buying shares in glovemakers like Hartalega Bhd and Top Glove Bhd costs more moolah than shares in banks in Malaysia!

Dan lain-lain

Earlier this month, a drunk driver killed a policeman at a roadblock in Kajang, Selangor. It was the second such case that we’d heard of this year after the one in February, where one person was killed and four others injured when a man drove against the flow of traffic in Seremban. 
 
Well, it happened again on Monday night when a 42-year-old guy, believed to have been drunk, drove against traffic in Kuantan and killed another man. 
 
The wife of the victim, naturally, says she hopes the driver gets what he deserves, and really, who can blame her?
 
However, that wondrous party called PAS has come up with a wondrous suggestion for apparently deterring these kinds of accidents from occurring: stopping the sale and production of alcohol until the issue of drink driving can be resolved. This, the party says, is because of the frequency of such incidents, and also, ’cos, according to a WHO report, we consume a lot of alcohol.
 
Isn’t this opportunism at its worst, though?
 
Yes, we all know that PAS is an Islamist party and Islam forbids the consumption of alcohol. And, yes, we truly believe drink driving is a huge problem that requires extraordinary measures to be taken. But banning alcohol entirely? Surely that flies in the face of logic. Going by that reasoning, Islamic education should be suspended until fires and abuses at religious schools can be resolved; politicians, police and government servants should be put to pasture until corruption is resolved; and, vehicles shouldn’t be allowed on roads until accidents are a thing of the past.
 
But why stop there. We should ban santan or any sort of fatty foods because of heart disease and sugar because of diabetes. Hell, why not ban sex until rapes and underage marriages don’t occur anymore?
 
Really, we could go on and on until the cows come home but as we said, something does need to be done. And something is being done. The Transport Ministry will, on June 1, hold a briefing on proposed amendments to the Road Transport Act regarding drink driving. An online questionnaire is currently circulating and the amendments will have to be finalised by mid-June, taking into account views from the public through this questionnaire. 
 
Now, isn’t that a better response to the problem, PAS?
 
Anyway, here are some other items which came out over the long weekend:

  • If PAS was taking the opportunity of recent cases of drunk drivers to promote the idea of banning alcohol, Umno was just as opportunistic by suggesting Pakatan Harapan allows the party’s candidate to win the upcoming Chini by-election uncontested to avoid having constituents go to the polls amidst the Covid-19 pandemic.
     
  • Malaysian Rubber Board (MRB) chairman Ahmad Nazlan Idris has denied a decision had been made to approve a RM100 million Rubber Technology Centre in Jerantut (he is the Jerantut MP), saying it was still only in the planning stages
     
  • Meanwhile, Ipoh Barat MP M. Kula Segaran has called former PM Najib Razak childish for defending the MRB project by comparing it to the previous Pakatan government’s decision to build a SOCSO hospital in his constituency. He said the hospital was needed to rehabilitate workers and also chided Jibby for getting things wrong, considering the hospital is being built in Meru, in the Tambun parliamentary seat. 
     
  • A decade later and Switzerland has finally started the trial of a Swiss banker who is accused of failing to stop the transfer of US$700 million in 1Malaysia Development Board funds into an account controlled by Jho Low. 
     
  • The Federal Court is allowing a man charged in the Selangor Syariah Court for having sex against the order of nature (read, sex with other men. And yes, in certain matters we’re still in the 15th century) to challenge the charges. While this case is of course important to the continuing fight for LGBTIQ rights, it could also be significant from a legal precedent point of view. This is because it could help determine just how much power states have in enacting Islamic laws. 

“People who insist on drinking and driving are putting the quart before the hearse.”

- Gilbert K. Chesterton -

IN INTERNATIONAL NEWS

  • The number of Covid-19 cases worldwide has now passed 5.5 million, with nearly 350,000 deaths recorded. But despite death toll in the US around 100,000 now, the White House continues to defend its response to the pandemic.
     
  • Meanwhile, Brazil has now surpassed the US in terms of the number of daily deaths.
     
  • A Chinese virologist known as the “bat woman” for her work on coronavirus in bats, has warned that the current pandemic is just the tip of the iceberg
     
  • Presumptive Democratic Party presidential candidate Joe Biden will pick a woman as his running mate for the upcoming elections. Here’s a list of some of the names under consideration to be what would be the first woman VP of the US. If Biden wins, of course.
     
  • Macau casino magnate Stanley Ho, who built his empire from scratch in one of Asia’s most celebrated rags-to-riches stories, has died. He was 98. 

ABOUT THIS NEWSLETTER

This weekday newsletter is brought to you by Trident Media, a group of Malaysian journalists with 60 years of combined media experience in four countries across TV, print and digital media.

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Trident Media · Seksyen 35 · Shah Alam, Selangor 40470 · Malaysia

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