We could be seeing the start of a new wave of infections as our Covid-19 numbers shot past 200 in a single day, in numbers not seen since before the Recovery MCO.

Naturally, people are pissed, blaming politicians for the spike in cases as fear mounts of another lockdown; also, palm oil producer FGV Holdings Bhd has denied claims of labour abuses against its migrant workers.

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And the numbers keep climbing

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas a new wave

[Insert chosen curse word here]! Things have really taken a turn for the worse as far as our Covid-19 numbers are concerned.
 
So bad, in fact, that Health Director-General Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah has warned we may now very well be looking at the start of another wave of infections. 

At 260 new infections, yesterday’s the second-highest single-day total after June 4 which recorded 277 cases, and March 26 with 235. We also saw four new clusters in SabahKedahSelangor and Putrajaya.
 
Of yesterday’s cases, 259 were local transmissions, with 118 in Sabah followed by 98 in Kedah. Even so, 31 involved people who’d travelled to Sabah, bringing to 119 the number of such cases since Sept 20. In fact, two of the three clusters outside of Sabah have index cases linked to travel there.
 
According to senior consultant paediatrician Dr Amar-Singh HSS, 52 of yesterday’s cases were unlinked community spreads, meaning these cases are yet to be linked to any cluster nor cause. That’s a worrying thought indeed. 
 
This is essentially a return to pre-Recovery MCO level number of cases. In fact, the current spread is worse than the June 4 record as a bulk of the latter cases were confined to the Bukit Jalil immigration depot. If true, this’d be Malaysia’s third wave – the second wave had hit us in Feb, back when we were mostly dealing with cases linked to China and when 50 cases a day was the daily record.

This, naturally, has many people asking if Malaysia could be seeing another movement control order-style lockdown. Unfortunately, a tweet by our man Hisham asking people to stay at home (it’s our #QOTD below!), set the Twitterverse alight, and added to the speculation. In fact, the tweet’s been retweeted over 51,000 times and quoted over 12,000 times.

The DG himself downplayed the line, saying it was just just a reminder. We can’t take things easy, he’d said, and its incumbent upon us to help flatten the curve. Sadly, the man heading our nation’s Covid response and who could seemingly do no wrong at one time, is now facing a lotta flax by angry Malaysians who question the government’s handling of cases, mainly from Sabah – especially the decision to go ahead with polls, impose stricter campaigning SOPs and failure to impose mandatory quarantine on those returning from the state.
 
As of Sept 30, Sabah’s recorded 1,877 cases. Add the 118 yesterday, and that’s just a hair’s breadth short of 2,000. And don’t forget that 119 cases in other states linked to Sabah. Damn.
 
Standing firm, the s̶t̶u̶b̶b̶o̶r̶n̶ DG’s denied the Health Ministry was too slow in dealing with the surge of infections in Sabah, saying preparations were made ahead of the state elections. Well, many Malaysian are not buying the spiel. And it’s not just the good doctor who’s feeling the heat.

Public anger has also turned to politicians and the double standard being shown by authorities in enforcing law and order and SOPs. Trending hashtags on Twitter in Malaysia yesterday showed while many are worried about a second  MCO (#MCO2 and #LOCKDOWN2.0 being two of the trending hashtags),  #SalahMenteri and #PoliticiansPuncaVirus also made the list.
 
We must, after all, question the wisdom (more like lack of it) of forcing an election in the midst of a bloody pandemic (we’re looking at you Musa Aman). Then we have returning politicians refusing to self-quarantine after returning to the peninsula, several of which are now found to be positive.

Related cases include a Kedah exco member and Melaka’s Ayer Limau assemblyman.

Meanwhile, here are some other related news related to Sabah cases:

 

  • BN sec-gen Annuar Musa, who less than a week ago said he’d been ordered to undergo quarantine, but yesterday tweeted pictures of himself attending a function with PM Muhyiddin Yassin. Bodohnya Tan Sri, kantoikan sendiri
     
  • Some 600 students and staff of a school in Penang who had to be screened and are now quarantined after a teacher, whose politician husband had been at the Sabah elections, tested positive for Covid-19.
     
  • The weekly Cabinet meeting was called off after at least five Cabinet ministers have been ordered to be quarantined after coming into contact with Covid-19 patients in Sabah, including Zuraida Kamaruddin.

    (We have to ask, haven’t our ministers heard of Zoom call? Jokes aside, this, combined with the insistence of not holding virtual Parliament sessions, is hurting our democratic system. If such old institutions like the UN General Assembly can hold meetings online, why can’t we?) 

With all this, it boggles the mind that the powers that be are still not imposing mandatory quarantine for Sabah returnees. Instead, there is now an inter-district travel ban in the state. What the what??

No GE, please. We're afraid

With the rapid coronavirus spread in Sabah, and the possibility the state elections there had at least indirectly led to a surge of cases in other states, one question remains looming: what happens if general elections are called for soon? 
 
If you remember, speculation was already rife that a general election could be held by the end of the year. This was even before opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim claimed to have the numbers to overthrow the Perikatan Nasional government led by Muhyiddin. Moo himself had said a Gabungan Rakyat Sabah (of which Perikatan is a member) win in Sabah could signal an early call to the polls
 
But with the Sabah polls serving as a warning, and with Noor Hisham acknowledging we could be experiencing the start of a new wave of infections, will GE15, if called soon, make things even worse? 
 
Veteran social activist Lee Lam Thye believes so and has called for GE15 to be held off to avoid any spike in numbers. And one Free Malaysia Today reader has even written in to the news portal to plead with the King not to dissolve Parliament. Where can we sign?
 
Of course, even without a general election being held in the midst of a spike in Covid-19 cases, there is every possibility that things could get worse. If they do, then the government will have no choice but to put the country back in MCO mode.

We don’t need to remind everyone such a move would severely hurt local businesses and the national economy. Experts have warned a lockdown would hurt more than our wallets, as there is the mental and social pressure to be considered. Let’s not forget the likelihood of domestic abuse escalating during such times.
 
In the meantime, here are some other Covid-related stories which appeared yesterday:

  • From today, there’ll be tighter measures taken at public transportation centres in order to prevent the spread of Covid-19. This includes stricter health screenings and enforcement of regulations. Have we been lax up to this point, then? 
     
  • Non-Sarawakians travelling from Labuan and Sabah have been barred from entering the state from Oct 4 to 18.
     
  • Umno has postponed all divisional meetings for now. Funny how these guys weren’t as concerned during the Sabah elections or of their sec-gen who really should be at home, not galavanting with the PM.

    Meanwhile, the Melaka government, too, has rescheduled all events involving its CM and key officials. 
     
  • The new GRS administration in Sabah has formed a Covid-19 committee to tackle the pandemic in the state, but has still to appoint a state Health Minister. Wouldn’t appointing a minister be more important? 
     
  • The Selangor government has postponed the state-sponsored “Selangor Mega Job Fair 2020”, scheduled for this weekend at the Shah Alam Convention Centre. Good on you, guys.
     
  • A KEMAS kindergarten in Dungun has been closed after a member of the staff contracted the virus. Close contacts of the staffer, including the kindie’s 20 students, have been tested for Covid-19. 

Love thy labourer

As we mentioned yesterday, Malaysia’s palm oil giant FGV is in a little bit of hot soup with the US, which has banned the import of its palm oil and palm oil products due to concerns over use of forced labour (allegedly, allegedly). 
 
Well, FGV has denied the allegations (of course), saying it has taken steps to address all human rights issues in the past. The company says the allegations have been a matter of public discourse since 2015.

The company previously known as Felda Global Ventures Holdings Berhad has claimed its efforts being available in the public domain. 
 
Here’s a TL;DR breakdown of what FGV said in answer to the allegations:

  • All migrant workers, mainly from India and Indonesia, were hired through legal channels.
     
  • One-stop centres were established in the workers’ own countries to brief them on terms of employment, job scope and rights.
     
  • All workers are employed directly by FGV and are not hired on a contract basis.
     
  • The company doesn’t retain identity documents of its workers and have installed more than 32,000 safety boxes in its facilities as an option for migrant workers to safely store their passports.
     
  • It has invested RM350 million to upgrade housing facilities for workers.
     
  • It has a supplier code of conduct to ensure labour, health, safety, sustainability and business ethics standards are met. Suppliers that don’t comply with the code of conduct risk being blacklisted
     
  • It has been in touch with US authorities August last year and had submitted evidence of compliance with labour standards. 

FGV’s assurances, however, didn’t stop its shares from falling yesterday. By 10.11am, the shares had fallen 6.95 percent to RM1.07, compared to the previous day’s close of RM1.15. By the end of the day, it had dropped further to RM1.05. 
 
Human Resources Minister M. Saravanan said his ministry was looking into the matter. Here’s what’s worse, though: apparently, a second big plantation company is also said to be on the verge of having a similar ban imposed, though Sara didn’t name the company. 
 
Meanwhile, Plantation Industries and Commodities Minister Khairuddin Aman Razali (yes, the Covid-19 home quarantine flouter) said his ministry would submit a report soon on labour practices in the Malaysian oil palm plantations sector to the US Labour Department to avoid further restrictions on Malaysian commodities. 
 
Labour issues concerning migrant workers have been a problem in Malaysia for a long time. As this special report last year revealed, one of the problems was that such workers are often passed around from employer to employer in a trade that places them in “slave-like” conditions. 
 
An investigative piece released just a few days ago, in fact, points out that labour abuses abound in Malaysia and Indonesia, and this involves many of the world’s top producers as well as banks. The workers – millions of them – are from some of the poorest countries in Asia and endure various forms of exploitation, with the most serious abuses being “child labour, outright slavery and allegations of rape”. 
 
FGV, of course, is not the first Malaysian company to have run afoul of US authorities over labour issues this year. Top Glove, the largest natural rubber glove producer in the world, faced a ban in the US earlier this year, amidst the Covid-19 pandemic, with New Zealand later instituting a boycott of its products as well. 

Two of the biggest issues against Top Glove was, like FGV, the retention of identity documents of migrant workers and atrocious housing conditions. In response, Top Glove denied keeping workers’ identity documents and said it was in the midst of upgrading housing for its foreign labour. 

Flotsam and jetsam

Today’s newsletter is kinda long. So, we’ve compiled some of the other news articles we thought important or interesting into briefs:

  • Former PM Dr Mahathir Mohamad says PM-wannabe Anwar Ibrahim didn’t support him, even though it was he who got the Pakatan head honcho a royal pardon. Janganlah merajuk, Atuk
     
  • Umno No. 2 Mohamad Hasan has prodded his boss Ahmad Zahid Hamidi to “do something” about that pesky torn in Umno’s side – Bersatu. Mat Hasan said it was clear the party’s alliance with Bersatu wasn’t benefiting it, considering that despite being the biggest party in GRS, it was denied the Sabah CM-ship.

    In response, Zahid promised a “comprehensive post-mortem” report would be discussed among the party leadership
     
  • BN sec-gen Annuar has suggested that a PAS member be appointed to Sabah’s state assembly (the state is unique in that it has an allocation for six people to be appointed assemblypersons), something which has perturbed at least one person – Kapayan assemblywoman Jannie Lasimbang, who said this would be detrimental to harmony. In response, PAS sec-gen Takiyuddin Hassan said the party has non-Muslim members who could be appointed. 
     
  • Former PM Najib Razak’s appeal against his conviction and sentencing in his SRC International case has been set for Feb 15. Poor fellow probably won’t be able to have a peaceful Valentine’s Day with beloved wifey Rosmah Mansor the day before.
     
  • Former Attorney-General Apandi Ali is seeking damages and losses from the Attorney-General’s Chambers, saying that he was unlawfully terminated from his position by the then Pakatan Harapan administration. 
     
  • Former KL City Hall executive director (planning) Mahadi Che Ngah, a 36-year veteran in DBKL, has been appointed the new KL mayor for a two-year term. 

“How about all stay at home for awhile again?"

- Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah -

IN INTERNATIONAL NEWS

  • The death of a second Dalit woman, aged 22, in just a few days after an alleged gang rape has angered India. Meanwhile, police say the first case, that of a 19-year-old, was not rape as no semen was found on the victim.

    This as they faced criticism for allegedly forcing her cremation against the family’s wishes in the early hours of Wednesday morning. Unrest has grown in India as police imposed martial law in the teen’s village, clashed with protestors and briefly arrested several politicians
     
  • The EU has begun legal proceedings against the UK after the latter refused to ditch plans to override certain sections of the Brexit deal.

    A letter of formal notice has been sent to PM Boris Johnson’s office in a move which could see the matter brought before the European Court of Justice, the EU’s top court. 
     
  • Russian opposition activist Alexei Navalny has put the blame for his poisoning in August squarely on the shoulders of President Vladimir Putin.
     
  • With Covid-19 numbers surging, the Spanish government has ordered the country’s capital, Madrid, and surrounding areas placed on partial lockdown. The Greater Madrid area has accounted for more than a third of Spain’s 133,000-plus infections over the past two weeks. 
     
  • Fans of Subway may want to look away. The Irish Supreme Court has ruled that bread served up by the popular sandwich chain can’t actually be called bread as its sugar content’s way too high. Apparently, it’s confectionary. 

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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