(Partially) open for business
On condition of confusion
According to PM Muhyiddin Yassin, from today onwards, the country will relax many movement restrictions and begin a phase of conditional control. Unfortunately, for MooMoo and 31 million Malaysians who’ve been confined to their homes since March 18, the only thing clear about this new, so-called Conditional Movement Control Order (CMCO) phase is this: a whole bunch of people aren’t happy with Putrajaya’s decision to ease the lockdown.
In case you didn’t watch/listen to Muhyiddin’s Labour Day speech, the PM’s basic message was considering the economic losses incurred – the figure given was RM63 billion – and the declining number of Covid-19 infections in the country, Monday, May 4 is as good a day as any to re-start the economy. Some restrictions and conditions may still have to be maintained, of course. But by and large, Malaysia can now re-open for business.
The National Security Council website has detailed lists and guidelines on what’s open and what’s not, but in case you can’t be arsed to go through all the PDFs, here’s a brief list of some businesses/things that are still being kept shut:
- Places of worship
- Recreational facilities such as cinemas, theatres, museums and theme parks
- Gyms and other indoor sporting facilities
- Hairdressers and barbers
- Ramadan and Aidilfitri bazaars
- Spas, reflexology centres and nightspots
Also, here’s what’s still not being allowed:
- Religious gatherings and prayer events
- Conventions, exhibitions, seminars, ceramah, fairs
- Concerts, movie shoots and busking
- Sporting events
- Raya balik kampung
Meanwhile, among the things you will be allowed to do from today is go to work, dine out, and exercise/play sports either solo or in small groups.
Unfortunately, despite the NSC’s best efforts to make things crystal, like with almost all the announcements made since we went into lockdown, there was way more confusion instead of clarity. And one of the main questions raised almost immediately was whether the MCO extension to May 12 is now null and void.
Well, the answer, our folks at the top say, is ‘no’.
MCO Phase 4, which was due to run from April 28 to May 12, is still valid, they say. So, generally speaking, the rules as laid out in the federal gazette on the Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases (Measures Within Infected Local Areas) would still apply. How this works in practice now that everything is open, though, is up in the air.
Another matter adding to everyone’s confusion is that as many seven states have said that despite the easing of movement curbs, they, and not the Federal Government, will decide on when and how to open up their respective economies. TL;DR Selangor, Pahang and Negri Sembilan are adopting a more let’s-take-it-easy stance; Penang is resolving to open up industries in stages; and Sabah, Sarawak and Kedah are giving Moo and co. the middle finger, saying there’s no way in hell they’re easing the MCO.
In a nutshell, the seven state governments are opposed to the CMCO because they believe more time is needed to scrutinise and fine-tune stuff before the rules can be properly relaxed.
And here’s the thing: they’re right! Three days – from Moo’s announcement to May 4 – is certainly not enough to evaluate everything properly, consult with stakeholders and gather feedback. Also, while it’s true that the country’s finances have taken a hammering, Malaysia simply cannot afford to open everything up too quickly, and risk a third wave of infections.
Yes, yes, the PM’s public health advisor Dr Jemilah Mahmood says we shouldn’t compare Malaysia with places like Hokkaido ’cos, for one, unlike the Japanese island which eased its lockdown only to be hit by another wave of Covid-19 cases, our borders are still closed.
Nevertheless, considering the loud voices of dissent coming from certain other experts as well both sides of the political divide (read: Najib Razak and Pakatan Harapan leaders), it might be appropriate for the government to consider a change of mind. After all, if the two months of Perikatan Nasioanal’s rule have taught us anything, it’s that these fellows are as brilliant at U-turns as the previous guys in charge were.
P.S. Even though everything is apparently ready to be open and even though things like open court hearings will resume, Parliament will still only sit for a single day on May 18. Read into that what you will.
P.P.S. Our cousins across the Causeway are relaxing their lockdown curbs too from tomorrow.
Do unto others
Malaysia’s treatment of migrants – be they legit foreign workers, undocumented immigrants or refugees – has come under the spotlight in the last few weeks. And over the past few days, the issue was brought into focus once more following massive raids in the Jalan Masjid India area.
According to reports, hundreds of illegal immigrants were picked up in multiple swoops in the area, with authorities concentrating especially on Menara City One as well as Malayan Mansion and Selangor Mansion, areas home to many immigrants and which had earlier been placed under enhanced movement restrictions.
The government, of course, has defended its actions, claiming the raids were carried out to, first and foremost, test undocumented migrants there for Covid-19. Be that as it may, it doesn’t deny a number of those without valid papers were sent to Immigration Department depots for further action.
Defence Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob maintains that Malaysia’s laws regarding illegal immigrants remain the same, Covid or no Covid. As such, the government is entitled to “protect our country and people.”
The man with crazy-ass shirts is right, of course. Our immigration laws clearly specify for action to be taken against people who enter the country illegally. However, one of the questions being is asked is whether we’re using the pandemic and MCO excuses to crack down on illegal migrants?
The other concern is whether such heavy-handed tactics, like the kind employed in Jalan Masjid India, are counter-productive and could result in the country’s massive illegal migrant population going into hiding? According to at least one estimate, Malaysia has a staggering five million undocumented workers. So what indeed happens when these people go into hiding for fear of being arrested and deported, and new clusters of infection start emerging?
By the way, in case it escaped notice, less than two months ago, the authorities were urging illegal immigrants to come forward to be tested, assuring them they’d be safe from detention. Now, despite the explanations and clarifications, it appears those promises were written in water. Should the government be surprised then if folks have trouble believing all their actions in the fight against Covid-19 have been done in good faith?
In other semi-related news, Negri Sembilan Bersatu chief and former minister Rais Yatim says Malaysia should learn from its history with immigrants when dealing with the Rohingya, warning that as soon as the numbers of these people increase, “they will maul us.” Rais isn’t a stranger to controversy, of course, and frankly, the dude has been known to spew a whole load of shit. Still, this latest statement might be his most xenophobic and racist one yet. When or if he’ll be investigated over the comments, though, is anyone’s guess.
What goes up
You know what’s funny about the movement curbs being relaxed today? It’s that though Malaysia had just completed a 16-day period of double-digit Covid-19 cases when the announcement was made, the numbers have climbed again. On Friday, there were 69 new cases reported. On Saturday and Sunday, meanwhile, the rise was recorded at 105 and 122 respectively.
The number of fatalities too has increased by three to now stand at 105.
Still, the total number of recoveries, which at 4,413 is 70% of the total number of cases (6,298) is encouraging. But the war ain’t close to being over. And it’d be foolish to believe we’ve won, says Health D-G Noor Hisham Abdullah. Which means, we’ve all gotta be extra vigilant, even if that means being a tattletale.
Anyhoo, here’re some other important coronavirus-related bits and pieces that made the news over the past three days:
- Nurulhidayah Ahmad Zahid, the daughter of Umno prez Ahmad Zahid Hamidi will be charged with allegedly breaching the MCO to go on a jaunt to Putrajaya to visit de facto Religious Affairs Minister Zulkifli Mohamad. Nurulhidayah had been accompanied by her hubby at a time when the MCO clearly prohibited two people from riding in the same car. She claims, though, she had a police permit for the visit.
- Despite Bank Negara’s “clarification”, folks are pissed that interests will continue to be accrued for hire-purchase and fixed-rate Islamic financing repayments. Finance Minister Tengku Zafrul Tengku Abdul Aziz is bearing the brunt of the vitriol over BNM’s statement on March 25 which suggested the automatic moratoria would apply to all loan and financing repayments.
- Only eight Covid-19 red zones remain. Among these zones is Lembah Pantai, which has 280 cases. Meanwhile, there are 92 green zones.
- The Umno supreme council will meet today for the first time since March 18. The meeting will, apparently, be conducted in accordance with recommended guidelines and strict social distancing rules.
- The Social Security Organisation (Socso) says a tweet suggesting there were insufficient funds to pay workers under the Employment Retention Programme (ERP) was “not authorised.” The government had originally allocated RM120 million in order to provide RM600 a month of financial aid to workers who’d been forced to take unpaid leave as a result of Covid-19.
And here’re some non-coronavirus news items that also made the headlines:
- A 20-year-old Malaysian student who claimed to have won a prestigious Nasa scholarship now says he could’ve been the victim of a scam. Muhammad Azhar Ali received loads of praise, including from PM Moo and Science, Technology and Innovation Minister Khairy Jamaluddin, when he tweeted about his victory. However, the typos and grammatical errors in pics of the cert Azhar had posted raised a fair bit of suspicion.
- MCA veep Ti Lian Ker has been appointed Deputy National Unity Minister. His swearing-in ceremony is expected to take place on Tuesday. The post had originally been offered to Progressive Democratic Party president Tiong King Sing. Tiong, who rejected the post, is now the PM’s special envoy to China.
- Even as Mukhriz Mahathir tries to convince Bersatu that the party’s best chance of success is with Pakatan Harapan, there are those who believe it’s time for MooMoo, the party’s president, to rejoin Umno. Bersatu chairman Dr Mahathir Mohamad, meanwhile, was too busy thanking the media in conjunction with World Press Freedom day to wade into this particular argument. Yes, Mahathir. Yes, press freedom.
- Umno deputy president Mohamad Hasan has turned down an offer to head Tenaga Nasional Berhad. Truth be told, Tok Mat, who’s previously served on the board of Khazanah Nasional Berhad and has vast experience in the corporate sector, would probably have been a great pick for TNB. However, the Rantau assemblyman is understood to want to focus on strengthening his party instead.
IN INTERNATIONAL NEWS
- Days after Donald Trump suggested Covid-19 started in a lab in Wuhan, his Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has upped the ante, claiming “we’ll hold those responsible accountable.”
- Spain, Italy and France have all seen their lowest Covid-19 death tolls in weeks, things aren’t quite as rosy in Russia, which saw over 10,000 new cases on Sunday – its fourth day in a row of record increases.
- Canada has banned 1,500 types of assault weapons. Though the ban is effective immediately, there will be a two-year amnesty period to allow gun owners to comply with the law.
- Southeast Asia could be the destination of choice for investors once the pandemic ends. According to certain experts, companies are sure to evaluate how countries are managing the Covid-19 situation, and what they will particularly be concerned with is transparency in government response.