Did you hear a huge sound of cheering yesterday? That was probably the sound of the nation's kids rejoicing, after the government decided to cancel or postpone a whole bunch of major exams, thanks to that pesky coronavirus that's messing with us.

In other news, for the first time since before the movement control order (MCO) was put in place, the number of new Covid-19 cases daily has dropped to double digits. The number of recoveries was also higher than new cases, bringing the total recovery rate to more than 50%.

Covid-19 'kills' exams

Exams cancelled, postponed

The Ujian Penilaian Sekolah Rendah and Pentaksiran Tingkatan Tiga examinations will be cancelled this year, while the Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia, Sijil Vokasional Malaysia and Sijil Tinggi Agama Malaysia exams are to be postponed to the first quarter of next year.

Meanwhile, the second semester exam for Sijil Tinggi Pelajaran Malaysia will be postponed to August this year, and the third semester exams to the first quarter of 2021. 
 
Parents who are wondering about how their children will get into religious schools, Maktab Rendah Sains Mara institutions or the Royal Military College without UPSR results, or boarding or vocational schools without PT3 results, need not worry as new selection criteria will be used as the basis for entry. The Education Ministry has also worked out with the Higher Education Ministry to postpone the admission date for higher education institutes for foundation, matriculation and diploma programmes to between July and August 2021, while admission for degree programmes will be delayed to September or October. Private universities are also looking at conditional admission of students next year, as they too grapple with this new normal of ours.
 
This is a massive decision by the government; never has any major exam been canceled. It’s also massive in scale. Though none of the news reports mentioned how many students have their exams impacted, we looked at the ministry’s most recent data – which was 2018’s statistics – and found that close to 1.3 million students of the 4.7 million-over students in the country are in these exam batches. 

All in all, we applaud the move, as education has been disrupted for students nationwide during the MCO. They don’t have access to a lot of learning facilities while studying at home, even with e-learning. In fact, a survey shows 40% of students don’t even have access to e-learning because they don’t have devices, so this is a major problem. This is especially so for poorer students or those that live in rural areas, with weak internet connectivity.
 
Things won’t be the same, either, when schools reopen after the MCO is lifted. New guidelines that include social distancing practices will be put in place. What this means that if a class has 35 students, a bigger venue must be accorded, or the class will have to be split in two. God only knows how this will be implemented, but it is among the measures to be taken. We guess recess for students will also have to be staggered even more, if social distancing norms are to be practiced. 

In short, our entire education system will have to go through a rapid process of evolution to cope with our new reality and it’s smart to do it without having the thought of big-scale government exams hanging over everybody like a Sword of Damocles. 
 
In other news, the Malaysian Health Coalition (MHC) has urged the government to engage medical, health and public health experts in any decision-making regarding the MCO and Covid-19. Saying it regretted that certain MCO Phase 3 decisions were made without engaging these experts, the MHC added that future decisions, such as the drafting of an exit strategy for the MCO, should be made in strict coordination between the Health Ministry and health experts. 
 
Speaking of MCO3.0, the Federal government has gazetted the order, with a list of businesses allowed to operate, including additions from the previous two phases, and criteria for travel for anyone not considered part of the essential services list, including the 10km-radius ruling. 
 
Bukit Aman says nearly 6,000 people have been hauled to court for various infractions related to violating the MCO. This number, we figure, will increase quite a bit over the next few days as nearly 15,000 were arrested during the first two phases of the MCO. 
 
So, where on God’s green earth are we gonna put all these people who may end up with prison sentences because they were brilliant enough (full sarcasm mode on) to violate the MCO while a deadly virus is running roughshod over the entire world? After all, the Prisons Department previously said jailing MCO violators has led to overcrowding, not to mention the possibility of risking an outbreak at prisons. 
 
Well, the government will convert 13 academies under the Prisons Department (who knew they even had that many?) to be used as jails for MCO violators, while the department itself is mulling using public buildings as temporary correctional facilities for the purpose, as MCO violators are considered low-risk prisoners. That’s if this report is to be believed. The article, however, doesn’t say what sort of public buildings will be used. 

Anyhoo, here’s some “on-the-bright-side” kind of news about the MCO. Satellite spectrometry images show the MCO has led to clearer skies and cleaner air over Malaysia. Perhaps this is one year we won’t have a problem with haze caused by land burning activities in our neighbours’ backyard, either.

Down to double digits

Speaking of good news, for the first time since March 14, the number of new daily Covid-19 cases fell below the 100 mark, with 85 cases reported yesterday. That number, however, has pushed the total number of cases here past the 5,000-case mark, at 5,072.
 
The total number discharged, however, was almost double the number of new cases, at 169, bringing total recoveries to 2,647, or 52.2%, of cases. One person was reported to have died of Covid-19 yesterday, bringing the death toll here to 83
 
Health DG Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah, who has been named one of the world’s top doctors by Chinese TV station CGTN, says the fluctuations in the number of cases reported daily is a sign of success and not failure. He says the spikes in the numbers recorded on certain days are due to active testing being done in enhanced MCO areas. 
 
Another measure that’s led to Malaysia’s success rate in containing the spread of the virus is that health workers are ensuring patients are truly free of Covid-19 before being discharged. All are required to test negative twice for Covid-19 before being given a clean bill of health and let go. This, said Noor Hisham, is different from countries like the UK and Italy, where patients who are asymptomatic or display only mild symptoms are allowed to quarantine at home. 
 
Admitting that all three strains of the coronavirus may already be in Malaysia, Noor Hisham also advised Malaysians to continue wearing masks in public, maintain social distancing and avoid the “3Cs” of confined spaces, crowded places and close contact. 
 
The Health Ministry’s next focus for testing would be the 8,000-plus tahfiz students nationwide. He didn’t specifically say this was because these students may have directly or indirectly come into contact with the Sri Petaling tabligh cluster, but it’s likely one of the things on authorities’ minds. Noor Hisham said, so far, 1,736 students have been screened, with 217 testing positive, a bigger percentage than even the Sri Petaling cluster. 
 
Noor Hisham also said the Health Ministry had tested several disinfection boxes (or chambers, tunnels, booths, partitions and gates) and found no evidence to support suggestions they are effective against Covid-19. In fact, he says, the chemicals used may prove harmful as they could affect the body’s mucous membranes, such as the ones in our eyes and mouths. 
 
Anyways, here are the other Covid-related news for you in brief:

  • Muar, Johor is now the nation’s 27th Covid-19 red zone. Johor now has four red zones in total, the third most affected state after Selangor and KL. Sabak Bernam in Selangor is also now an orange zone. 
     
  • India has partially lifted its ban on exports of hydroxychloroquine and will sell the antimalarial drug to Malaysia to treat Covid-19. We’ve been using the drug to treat coronavirus patients here to good effect. 
     
  • The Master Builders Association of Malaysia (why does that name always bring up visions of Freemasons?) has urged the government to repay GST refunds so as to ease cash flow problems in the construction industry caused by the MCO. 
     
  • The Sultan of Johor has decreed there will be no drive-thru Ramadan bazaars in the state as the risk of infection was too high. 
     
  • Migrant rights group Tenaganita says the MCO has led to a loss of income for foreign workers, and subsequently to starvation for many of them. 
     
  • Here’s some news to warm the heart a little and maybe spread a little cheer. A mosque in PJ has won plaudits for distributing aid to Malaysians, regardless of race or religion, during the MCO, leading to even more donations, also from people of all races and religions, so it can carry on its work. 
     
  • And finally, how about giving it up for Norfarrah Syahirah Shaari from Kampung Parit Lima in Sungai Sumun, Perak? The 32-year-old doesn’t have any arms, but that hasn’t stopped her from using her feet to sew personal protective equipment for frontliners. What a champion. So, what are we doing to help?

Odds and ends

Several other things happened yesterday that are worth mentioning:

  • The US has returned another RM1.3 billion of recovered 1MDB funds to Malaysia, and new Moneybags Minister Tengku Zafrul Tengku Abdul Aziz says Putrajaya will continue to cooperate fully in aiding both local and international investigations into misappropriation of the funds and their recovery. Meanwhile, a corruption watchdog has said PM Muhyiddin Yassin and gang must be transparent in its handling of the recovered funds. 
     
  • The International Monetary Fund expects Malaysia’s real GDP growth to grow by an incredible 9% next year, the biggest among the ASEAN-5 countries (Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, the Philippines and Vietnam). 
     
  • DAP adviser Lim Kit Siang has criticised PM Moo’s administration for appointing MPs to head government-linked companies, saying now was not the time to do so as the country was busy battling Covid-19. Is there really any good time to do that, Uncle Kit? 
     
  • The Muhyiddin administration, or at least one minister, has waded into another controversy, this time over the appointment of My Events International founder Shahul Hameed Dawood as Human Resources Development Fund CEO. Penang Deputy CM II P. Ramasamy says Human Resources Minister M. Saravanan had “gone overboard” with the appointment as Shahul was known to have been the principal organiser of several events featuring controversial preacher Zakir Naik (there’s a name we haven’t heard in a quite a while). 
     
  • Police have opened two investigation papers into the alleged rapes of two Mongolian women by a police officer. Law firm Thomas Philip Advocates & Solicitors has accepted a brief from the Honorary Consul of Mongolia to assist the two women, who are being treated as victims and kept in a safehouse.
     
  • The High Court will hear the Inland Revenue Board’s bid to get a summary judgment in its suit to recover RM57.17 million in income tax arrears from former FT Minister Tengku Adnan Tengku Mansor on June 12. 

IN INTERNATIONAL NEWS

  • The global Covid-19 count has now surpassed 2 million cases, with more than 130,000 deaths. The US alone accounts for more than 30,000 deaths, with more than 615,000 cases. 
     
  • France experienced its largest jump in the number of deaths in a single day at 1,438. Meanwhile, some 700 sailors serving the French aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle’s naval group have tested positive for Covid-19. 
     
  • US President Donald Trump’s withdrawal of American funding for the World Health Organization has drawn criticism from UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and business magnate Bill Gates, himself a major funder of the WHO, as well as a vow from US Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi to fight the “illegal” suspension. 
     
  • Researchers are studying existing vaccines against other diseases, including polio, tuberculosis and rubella, to see if they might help the body’s immune system fight against Covid-19. 
     
  • Harvard scientists who modelled the Covid-19 pandemic have said one-off lockdowns won’t stop the spread of the coronavirus, adding that repeated periods of social distancing may be needed till 2022. 
     
  • The IMF says Covid-19 will bring Asia’s growth to a halt in 2020 – the first time in 60 years that such a thing.

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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