A mutated strain of coronavirus has been detected in Malaysia, and it’s 10 times more infectious than the version that originally hit us. Worse, the Covid-19 infection rate’s steadily rising.

Elsewhere in today’s newsletter, Bersatu joins Muafakat Nasional, a three-way contest looms in Slim, and a dude who was filmed trying to offer favours in exchange for votes gets elected Bersatu youth chief.

Superbad

Mutation situation

The overall death tally is still at 125 – the same since July 31 – but our Covid-19 infection rate’s taken a beating in recent weeks. Worse, it appears that not only do we have the original virus strain to contend with, there’s also a super-sized mutation that has the potential to wreak havoc.

Worries of a super coronavirus strain have gained momentum in recent weeks after more and more cases got linked to the Sivagangga cluster and yesterday, we finally got confirmation that there’s a new highly-contagious variant in our midst.

If you’re interested in the nerdy nitty-gritty, this piece here should clue you in on everything you need to know about the mutation (nama saintifik: D614G). If you’ve no time, the tl;dr version is that this new strain is a major pain in the ass!

While viruses mutate all the time, what makes D614G worrying is that this particular mutation appears to be able to spread up to 10 times faster than the previous ones. 

The data so far doesn’t exactly reveal it to be more deadly, though – which is a relief. Still, a number of studies suggest it’s way more transmittable. Why this happens is still being worked out, of course. However, one notable study found that patients infected with the new strain carry larger loads of the virus, which makes transmissions likelier.

According to Health director-general Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah, just four new cases (three linked to the Sivagangga cluster, and one from the Bukit Tiram cluster) have been identified as D614G positive. Even so, the highly infectious nature of the new strain demands increased vigilance everywhere.

By the way, not only has our daily infection rate spiked over the past three days (20 cases on Friday26 on Saturday and 25 on Sunday), the number of patients in intensive care has gone up too – to seven. The last time we had more patients was on June 1, when eight out of the then 1,338 active cases were in ICU. For the record, our active cases are at just 216, so seven people needing intensive treatment is significant. And worrying.

Here are other important Covid-19 highlights from the weekend:

  • A senior citizen was jailed a day and fined RM8,000 for breaching the mandatory two-week home quarantine order. Photos of Nur Emah Mohamad Hashim, 72, dining out while wearing a pink quarantine wristband were circulated on social media in late July. Nur Emah initially tested negative for Covid-19 but was found to be infected after a second test 
  • Penang, which was in the clear for so long, has now registered a spike in coronavirus infections. As a result, stricter movement control measures have been enforced in various parts of the state. The closure of pasar malams and a ban on dining at roadside stalls are among the new restrictions introduced. 
  • Senior Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob says there’s no need to amend the law to reduce the RM1,000 compound for not wearing face masks as one can always appeal for a reduction. Yeah okay, YB, we get you. But where’s the assurance that everyone’s gonna be treated fairly? 
  • As if the Sivagangga, Tawar and Muda clusters weren’t enough, there’s a new active cluster in Kedah to contend with. Contact tracing, for what is being called the Sala cluster, is ongoing but for the mo, it seems the infections are limited to just one family. 
  • A restaurant in Setapak has been shut for cleaning and sanitisation after two workers there, both foreign nationals, tested positive for Covid-19.

Three's company

Bersatu is in. Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin’s application for his party to join Muafakat Nasional, the Malay-Muslim political union featuring Umno and PAS, has been approved.  

According to Umno’s Ketereh MP, Annuar Musa, the Muafakat charter would need to be tweaked to allow for a threesome, but as it stands, the signs look pretty good that Bersatu will be part of the alliance.

In a way, this isn’t surprising. What with the recent slap across the face courtesy of Ahmad Zahid Hamidi shredding Moo’s dream of a formalised Perikatan Nasional’s coalition with Umno, where else can Bersatu go? 

Practically speaking, it does seem like Bersatu’s entry into Muafakat is exactly what’s needed for the fellas in power to ensure a lion’s share of the country’s Malay-Muslim votes and deny former premier Dr Mahathir Mohamad any chance of returning to the top via his new Pejuang party.

Still, the big question is whether Moo Yassin is backing himself into a corner by agreeing to team up with Umno-BN and PAS in their Muafakat playhouse.

Muafakat isn’t Moo’s baby, it’s Umno and PAS’. And the evidence since the duo’s wedding ceremony in September last year is that Umno is the head of the household in this particular marriage. And it has been a pretty stable marriage at that.

Proof? BN has won six by-elections since Muafakat Nasional was conceptualised –  Cameron Highlands, Semenyih, Rantau, Tanjung Piai, Kimanis and Chini.

Now, PAS obviously has no trouble with being the obedient spouse. That much is clear. It’s also arguable that of all parties in Malaysia, PAS has been the one in the most in ascendancy post GE-14. 

So would Bersatu be okay with playing second (third?) fiddle to Umno, especially when it’s clear to all and sundry it was Moo and co. that provided Umno with a way back to power?

Annuar claims the Muafakat model is about tolerance and cooperation, and all parties are equal. But why then does it always seem like it’s Umno calling the shots? Case in a point a rowdy gathering on Saturday where Bersatu youth members were booed as well as challenged to prove their worth.

 

Let’s not forget Umno has more Parliament seats, 39 (42 if you count all of BN) to Bersatu’s 31(including Azmin Ali’s faction of PKR froggies). And with Bersatu and Umno essentially vying for the same voter base (Bersatu is an Umno splinter party after all) Team Muhyiddin is gonna have a tough time ensuring proportional share of the seats come GE15 with Umno playing hardball like it currently is.

 

After all, 52 parliamentary seats – which is what the party contested in GE14 as part of Pakatan Harapan – may be out of the question considering Bersatu was up against Umno and/or PAS in many of those areas in 2018.

So how will Muhyiddin make sure Bersatu doesn’t get played out as a result of his decision to join Muafakat? Let’s hope he has some plan up his sleeve.

 

By the way, here’s something else to think about – with all this talk of Muafakat, what indeed happens to BN? Yes, Umno’s proudly paraded that famous dacing symbol in all the elections since the Muafakat signing. However, all this focus on Malay-Muslim votes suggests that racial balance and representation is no longer a primary consideration, despite assurances otherwise.

The battle for Slim

There’ll be a three-way battle when voters go the polls in Slim, Perak, but let’s face it, all eyes will be on just two of those candidates.

 

Slim has been a BN stronghold since before dinosaurs roamed the Earth, so perhaps it’s a given that the coalition will once more be triumphant come Aug 29. Even so, one dude does have the potential of chucking a spanner in the works – Maddey Mohamad.

 

Yeah, the former PM ain’t contesting in Slim himself. But his man is. And that is important.

 

Before all that, though, let’s look at the three candidates who’ll be vying for the state seat:

 

In Umno’s corner is the favourite, no doubt, 43-year-old Mohd Zaidi Aziz. A local boy who’s served as Slim Village Umno youth chief for a long ass time, Zaidi will surely be banking on all the goodwill afforded to his previous boss – the late Mohd Khusairi Abdul Talib, whose death it was that triggered the by-election – to ride home to victory.

Still, the current Tanjung Malim Umno info head has got real competition in the guise Amir Khusyairi Mohamad Tanusi. Amir, 38, isn’t Zaidi’s political equal, however, the syarie lawyer is, notably, Perak born and bred. His family is well known in the area – both mum and dad were religious teachers, while his wife’s a doc at Teluk Intan hospital. Most important of all, though, while he’ll be contesting as an indie in Slim, Amir is Maddey’s proxy in his fight against PM Moo. And truly, it’s a fool who’d take Mads lightly.

 

The wildcard in the contest is 45-year-old schoolteacher Santharasekaran Subramaniam. SS, also a native Perakian, is a long shot for a win for sure. But his dad was an MIC man, and considering that Indians make up 13% of the registered voters in Slim, there is a chance that the guy could play spoiler. (The overall voter breakdown in Slim is 75% Malay, 13% Indian, 10% Chinese and 2% lain-lain, in case you’re wondering.)

 

Most analysts are predicting a BN win come Aug 29, but even though PAS, which posed the biggest threat in previous elections here, is now aligned to the Blue Man Group via Muafakat (see above), the Bersatu factor might just come into play.

 

As noted earlier, Bersatu is the baby in the Muafakat family and it’s been challenged to prove its worth by turning in a truckload of votes, so yes, there’s a possibility that the party’s members may want to deliver and show Umno boss Zahid (who issued the challenge) just what they’re made of. But what if said challenge is seen by the grassroots as a slight? Would it then have the potential of backfiring, leaving Umno high and dry?

 

On the other side, meanwhile, questions remain with regard to how Mahathir’s Pejuang will play with the Pakatan Harapan brigade of Amanah, DAP and PKR. 

 

It is certainly noteworthy that nomination day in Slim saw reps from all three Pakatan parties present to back proxy Pejuang man Amir. But nothing is ever clear where the Opposition is concerned, is it? So you can probably expect a few more twists and turns before polling day.

Odds and ends

The past weekend wasn’t an especially earth-shattering one news-wise. Nevertheless, there were certainly some important bits and bobs to take note of.

  • Wan Ahmad Fayhsal Ahmad Kamal – the dude who recently came under fire for appearing to offer favours in exchange for votes – is the new Bersatu youth chief. Ex-youth and sports minister Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman was the party’s former youth leader.
     
  • Elsewhere, Women, Family and Community Development Minister Rina Harun has won the Bersatu women’s chief position uncontested. It seems that all Doraemon’s Rina’s rivals for the post were sacked after aligning themselves with Dr M. Meanwhile, Mas Ermieyati Samsudin, who was Puteri chief when she was with Umno, was elected Rina’s deputy.
     
  • Hamid Sultan Abu Backer, the judge who claimed that senior judges had intervened in numerous appeal decisions, has been issued with a show-cause notice. The notice was issued by Chief Justice Tengku Maimun Tuan Mat.
     
  • An aide to former tourism minister Mohamaddin Ketapi has been remanded five days in a probe involving a payment of RM3.7 million by a company to secure a ministry contract. Mohamaddin, meanwhile, has fired back at folks accusing him of having had a hand in corrupt practices during his tenure as minister, noting that he’s ready to be brought to court if evidence of wrongdoing against him can be obtained.
     
  • Comms Minister Saifuddin Abdullah and 18 other former PKR state and parliamentary reps have been slapped with RM10 million demand letters for having left the party earlier this year. PKR reps are understood to have all signed agreements promising to not defect. Unfortunately, there’s much debate as to whether or not such agreements are in contravention of Article 10 of the Federal Constitution, which guarantees freedom of association.
     
  • Seven dinosaur footprints – believed to be of Sauropods (and not Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah, you naughty people!) – have been discovered in Tanah Merah, Kelantan. The fossilised prints are reckoned to be between 145,000 and 66 million years old.

“Last year we said, ‘Things can’t go on like this’, and they didn’t. They got worse.”

- Will Rogers -

IN INTERNATIONAL NEWS

  • Italy has moved to shut discos and clubs following a spike in Covid-19 cases among young partygoers. The country’s also making it compulsory for masks to be worn outdoors at night. Why only at night?
     
  • Robert Trump, the younger bro of United States president Donald passed away Saturday from undisclosed causes. The businessman, who began his career on Wall Street in corporate finance, was 71.
     
  • A Japanese ship that’s leaked tonnes of oil into the sea off Mauritius since running aground three weeks ago has split in half putting more marine life in danger.
     
  • Thousands of Belarusians gathered over the weekend to protest against the country’s leader Alexander Lukashenko who has been in charge for 26 years. Lukashenko claimed last week to have secured 80% of the votes in Belarus’ presidential election, which is believed to have been rigged.
     
  • Facebook is merging Instagram and Messenger chats. The company has always been upfront about wanting to unite the messaging platforms it owns and that appears to be finally happening.

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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