With more people being thrown into jail for breaching the MCO, there’s legit concern that it’s only a matter of time before Covid-19 rears its ugly head in prisons here.

In other news, the country records more coronavirus cases and deaths while the Health Ministry worries about returning Malaysians importing new infections.

Jailhouse rock

Covid prison blues

From just 60% in the early days of the Movement Control Oder (MCO), the compliance rate has gone up to almost 99%. Unfortunately, even though most Malaysians have been good and stayed at home, there’ve been loads of covidiots who’ve junked common sense and good advice, and chosen to break the rules.

According to Defence Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob, more than 4,000 clowns have been arrested for flouting the law since the start of the MCO. A sizeable portion of those nabbed, it seems, have been sentenced to jail for their trouble. 

Thing is, with more and more people being thrown in the slammer, serious questions are being asked about the appropriateness of the punishment, with Prisons Department Director-General Zulkifli Omar among the loudest critics.

In a letter to the judiciary, Zul said jailing MCO offenders posed a real risk to prisoners and prison staff as overcrowding (there’re 73,000 prisoners currently at 50 facilities nationwide meant to hold just 52,000 inmates) already made social distancing near impossible. On top of that, it isn’t known if these offenders are Covid-19 positive or not.

Yup, our prisons are clear of coronavirus cases for now. But make no mistake, jails are a hotbed for the spread of infections. In China, for example, there were reports back in February of infections spreading like wildfire in prisons there. And that same horrible situation is being seen across the world right now, including in the United States, where hundreds of cases are being reported from Cook County Jail to Rikers Island

In short, our Prisons D-G is damn right to be concerned.

One of the suggestions that’s been mooted to deal with the issue is compulsory community service. But even though the proposal’s found favour with Malaysian Bar president Salim Bashir Bhaskaran, not everyone agrees. Detractors say current movement restrictions and social distancing rules would make community service impracticable. Even so, there are other options, like bound-over sentences (basically, where offenders have to adhere to a court order for a particular period) and fines, which should be considered.

Speaking of the fear of Covid-19 burning its way through especially overcrowded prisons, some folks like Lim Kit Siang have suggested that perhaps the government should consider releasing certain prisoners early. Citing Britain, India and Indonesia as examples, Uncle Kit noted that among those who could be considered for release are inmates nearing the end of their sentences, the elderly, and individuals in poor health. And you know what? We agree. 

True, releasing a whole bunch of prisoners at once could be problematic. However, if the authorities can monitor their movements, like Britain is doing with electronic tags, the risk might be manageable. After all, if Iran can release 85,000 jailbirds to avoid the spread of Covid, then it shouldn’t be impossible for us to do the same.

BTW, it isn’t just prisons that pose a threat to infections being spread, but regular old police lock-ups too, which why news of a detainee in Bentong dying in custody after suffering from shortness of breath is hella distressing

More recoveries, but more worries

Even as recoveries have increased to more than a thousand (1,005 to be exact), the number of Covid-19 deaths in the country has climbed some more to 61 now, with a total of 3,662 infections recorded. 

The rise in the number of cases and deaths currently isn’t exactly unexpected, considering the earlier predictions of two research houses and even the World Health Organization. However, the Health Ministry has expressed concern that Malaysians returning home from abroad (Singapore included) could cause the figures to spike further.

As of April 3, all returning Malaysians are to be screened upon arrival and quarantined at special facilities for two weeks. However, Health D-G Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah warns that if returning cases are not managed well, Malaysia could see an exponential increase in infection rates. 

In addition to that, he says, there is concern that some folks are still hiding from authorities the truth about where they’ve been and who they’ve been with, resulting in loads more people getting infected. Take the case of Sunday’s reported fatalities, for example, which included two people who’d been infected by a patient that’d travelled to Italy and kept mum about it. This joker, mind you, could have nipped the problem in the bud if he’d come clean upon returning from Italy. Instead, he kept quiet and passed on the infection to 37 people, five of whom have now died.

Oh, and in case those two things were not already worrying, it seems some 3,000 people who attended that tabligh gathering in Seri Petaling in late February have yet to be screened! A couple of weeks ago, the gathering’s organiser, Markaz Dakwah & Tabligh Malaysia, had claimed that only 500 participants had not yet undergone health checks. However, it appears that’s not the case, with the Health Ministry now saying a number of those missing could even have gone overseas.

Meanwhile, as the cases and issues increase, yet another MP – Kota Samarahan’s Rubiah Wang – has tested positive for Covid-19. Rubiah is the latest Sarawak politician to be diagnosed, following state Assistant Transport Minister Dr Jerip Susil, Sarikei MP Andrew Wong Ling Biu and Bandar Kuching MP Kelvin Yii.

Other coronavirus matters

As usual, there were loads more Covid-19 stories. Here’re some of the highlights in brief:

  • The Finance Ministry is working on a special stimulus package for small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). The package is set to be announced by PM Muhyiddin Yassin once it’s approved by Cabinet.
     
  • No Ramadan bazaars will be allowed so long as the MCO is in force. The National Security Council will come up with post-MCO guidelines if and when the order is lifted.
     
  • Heineken Malaysia Bhd has been given special permission to resume operations as the Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs Ministry considers the company a food supply operator. Needless to say, some fellas who obviously don’t believe in the power of beer to heal the world are crying foul over the government’s decision.
     
  • The Health Ministry is still waiting for WHO guidelines on face mask use but nonetheless says it sees no issue with healthy people wearing masks while out in public. WHO had previously said masks should only be worn by people with symptoms or those caring for sick persons.
     
  • There’s no indication that you can get Covid-19 from food. However, close contacts of restaurant workers who test positive for the disease – like in the case of a worker at an Ikea in Johor – must be screened.
     
  • Hardware stores will be allowed to open twice a week during the MCO. Ditto shops selling fertiliser and pesticide as well as those selling pet food, medication, and auto spare parts. For the full Phase 2 guidelines, go here.

Odds and ends

A number of non-coronavirus bits and bobs did also make the news over the weekend, and here they are:

  • This actually came out on Friday, but many people may have missed it due to the unrelenting focus on Covid-19. Bank Negara Malaysia released its 2019 annual report. There’s quite a lot to unpack here so if you’re not up to reading the whole thing, The Edge does a good job of drilling down to the most important points. Warning, it wasn’t a rosy picture even before Covid hit us.
     
  • Petrol and diesel prices have dropped for a fifth straight week. Unfortunately, while full tanks are now cheaper than they’ve been for ages, there’s no place to go!
     
  • It appears that Hadi Awang’s first order of business as Special Envoy to the Middle East was to bitch about Pakatan Harapan. The PAS chief is alleged to have addressed a letter written in Arabic to Muslim world leaders in which he lambasted PH as having used former PM Dr Mahathir Mohamad to side with non-Muslims in the country. Neither PAS nor the government has confirmed, however, if the letter is legit and why it was necessary to discuss domestic politics in an international dispatch. Then again, it’s not like they’ve explained why we need a Special Envoy to that part of the world that, at least according to the Department of Stats, doesn’t contribute very much to Malaysia’s FDI.
     
  • CIMB claims the strange “direct debit” transactions customers have been complaining about are legit purchases which were improperly re-termed. The bank has promised that it will be reaching out to debit card holders over the confusion even as the Malaysia Cyber Consumer Association says it’s probing the issue.
     
  • The recently-rebranded Ministry of Environment and Water has urged the media to use its full name, and not the abbreviation MEWA, which, get this, means confused or stupid in Kelantanese. A new, suitable, abbreviation will apparently be decided by Cabinet in the near future.
     
  • A boat carrying 202 suspected Rohingya refugees was intercepted near Langkawi. The group is to be investigated for attempting to enter the country illegally.
     
  • Malaysian weightlifters have been banned from next year’s Tokyo Olympics due to repeated doping offences. The Malaysian Weightlifting Federation (MFW) has also been suspended from the International Weightlifting Federation (IWF) for a year.

“Sometimes in our lives, we all have pain, we all have sorrow; but if we are wise, we know that there’s always tomorrow.”

- Bill Withers -

IN INTERNATIONAL NEWS

  • The English Premier League’s 2019/2020 season has been suspended indefinitely. The original suspension, announced on March 13, had been due to end on April 30. However, the league’s chiefs now say that “football will only return when it is safe and appropriate to do so.” UEFA, meanwhile, maintains that the current Champions League season must end by Aug 3 this year. How this will be achieved given the situations in Spain, Italy, France and the rest of Europe though is anyone’s guess.
     
  • Singapore will shut all schools and most workplaces from April 7 to May 4 as the republic attempts to curb the spike in coronavirus cases.
     
  • The United States is invoking a Korean War-era law to stop the export of surgical masks as well as to force manufacturer 3M to redirect masks meant for overseas customers to the US. The news comes as President Donald Trump insists that even though his administration is advising the wearing of non-surgical (read: cloth) masks as an added precaution, he himself is not gonna be doing it.
     
  • British PM Boris Johnson has been admitted to hospital for tests 10 days after testing positive for Covid-19.
     
  • A tiger at the Bronx Zoo has contracted coronavirus. Nadia, a four-year-old Malayan tiger, tested positive after developing a dry cough but is expected to recover. That’s a relief, considering the Malayan tiger is on the brink of extinction.
     
  • Zoom will turn on passwords and waiting rooms by default to help protect against the trend of “Zoombombing”, where Zoom meetings are interrupted by uninvited persons. Even so, New York schools have decided to stop using the video conferring app due to security and privacy concerns.
     
  • Acclaimed soul singer Bill Withers, who gave the world such hits as Ain’t No SunshineLean on Me and Lovely Day, has passed away of heart complications. He was 81. Here, by the way, is a playlist of Bill’s best and loveliest tunes to get you through this WFH Monday.

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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