In a bid to get a handle on the Covid-19 crisis, Malaysia is restricting movement of its citizens and ordering a shutdown of non-essential businesses for the next two weeks from March 18 to 31. But will these measures really help?

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Battening the hatches

Partial shutdown ordered

It’s finally happened. 

Following the spike in Covid-19 cases over the past couple of days – from 238 to 428 cases of infection on Sunday, and 428 to 553 yesterday – the government was left with no option but to take drastic measures. And on Monday night, PM Muhyiddin Yassin announced the imposition of a movement control order which the powers-that-be hope will halt the situation in the country from getting much worse.

First things first, the order isn’t a total lockdown, but a partial restriction of movement. Meaning, there’s no curfew being imposed and you won’t be in danger of being arrested for leaving your home. However, the government is ordering non-essential businesses and services to close from March 18 to 31, which means there won’t be very many places for you to head to if/when you do step outside your house.

Here’s what’s being shut over the next two weeks:

  • All schools and learning institutions.
  • All institutions of higher learning and skills training centres.
  • All government and private premises, except for those offering essential services like water, electricity, energy, telecommunications, gas, fuel, food, etc.
  • All houses of worship and businesses, except for supermarkets, wet markets, grocery stores and convenience stores. This closure is also in line with the order of a total ban on all mass gatherings, including religious activities like Friday prayers and sports, social and cultural activities/events.

Malaysians are also prohibited from travelling overseas, and if you are a citizen returning from abroad during this time, you’ll need to self-quarantine for 14 days. Meanwhile, foreign tourists and visitors will be barred from entering the country.

There are a lot of things still to be explained and clarified about Moo’s order. For example: 

  • How will these travel restrictions will affect the thousands upon thousands of folks who travel for work between Malaysia and Singapore (and Malaysia and Thailand, for that matter)? 
  • What happens if someone really, really needs to leave or come in to the country, like for the death of a loved one?
  • Will court cases continue? Is the court system considered part of the essential services in the country?
  • In terms of closures, are hotels affected? If so, what happens to the thousands of people currently staying there? We can’t just turn them out to the streets.
  • And perhaps most importantly, what’s gonna happen to the millions of workers in the country?

Anyhoo, the PM, in announcing the restrictions on Monday night, said that while he understands that the order, made under the Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases Act 1988 and the Police Act 1967, may inconvenience citizens, there was really no option of sitting around and waiting it see if it the situation got better or worse. 

The main thing to do, thus, he said is to the adhere to the restrictions and to absolutely not panic, because one, the National Security Council will meet daily to monitor the situation and provide everyone with updates. And two, despite scores of hoarders thronging the country’s super, hyper and regular markets earlier in the day when rumours of a possible lockdown started circulating, there’re more than enough food supplies, daily essentials and face masks to go around – according to Muhyiddin, and for now, at least. We saw a lot of empty shelves when we popped by a few 99 Speedmarts and KK Super Marts last night.

Incidentally, the 125 new cases yesterday are also linked to the cluster from the Seri Petaling mosque, where a tabligh event, attended by approximately 14,000 people, was held between Feb 27 and March 1. Meaning, we can expect the number to spike further in the coming days as more people who were present at the event are tested.

BTW too, here’s an excellent guide to help you understand social distancing, and especially what to do if/when family and friends are being idiots and not taking their health and the health of others seriously enough.

Brace for impact

So okay, we’re “locking down” the country for the next two weeks. And yes, we do hope that’ll help nip this crisis in the bud. Unfortunately, the signs suggest that while restricting movement and shutting down stuff might be the right thing to do in terms of keeping the majority of Malaysians safe and healthy, this could all be super damaging to the country’s pocket. Like in Italy, where a similar order looks likely to hurt the country’s already fragile economy. 

Of course, there are no two ways about it. People certainly need to be protected from a disease that’s already claimed over 7,000 lives globally. However, it’s quite clear too that the effects are going to be monumental if this crisis goes on for much longer, and businesses, schools and whatnot are ordered to remain shut.

Malaysia’s tourism sector has already been hit hard this past couple of months. Now, add to that the fact that we lost about RM1.91bil in foreign investment last week and the knowledge that many other industries, including our airlines, could be on the verge of collapse, as well as this new “lockdown” order and you can see why folks are worried that the whole country could be heading towards retrenchments, layoffs and mountains of debt.

True, the government announced earlier on Monday that an additional RM620 million has been allocated to help Malaysia deal with the effects of the Covid-19. However, the worry is that this extra allocation, which is being added to the RM20 billion economic stimulus package announced by former PM Dr Mahathir Mohamad last month, may not be enough to see us through this bad patch.

In any case, if you were wondering, the extra money the government is putting aside now will ensure, among others:

  • A 2% discount on electricity bills for the commercial, industrial and agriculture sectors as well as domestic users from April 1-Sept 30
  • A RM600 handout for six months for workers earning below RM4,000 a month, and for those who have handed no-pay notices from March 1
  • Earlier Bantuan Sara Hidup payouts this month, with an additional RM100 scheduled for May. 

Finances and our pockets aside, the movement control order, if implemented properly, should help “flatten the curve” i.e. contain the spread of the virus. And that is key. Because while we have yet to record any deaths here, the increase in cases, concern about lack of medical resources and stuff like ventilators suggest that it might be only a matter of time.

What a difference a couple of weeks make, huh? Weeks ago, Malaysia was being hailed for having managed to keep the spread of Covid-19 in check. Now, we have close to 600 cases, are staring at a bleak 2020 and even have our first celebrity victim – national hammer thrower Jackie Wong.

Dan lain-lain lagi

While the movement control order and other Covid-19-related things may have been the big stories yesterday, some other bits and bobs did still manage to edge their way into the news. Here’re a few of those:

  • Five people were killed following an explosion at an oil refining complex in Pengerang, Johor. This is the second fire at the complex in less than a year, although no causalities or fatalities were reported during the last explosion, in April 2019.
     
  • Current PM Muhyiddin will not take on former PM Mahathir for the post of Bersatu chairman in the party’s upcoming elections. However, he will defend the party president’s post against Maddey Jr. a.k.a. Mukhriz Mahathir and one Mohd Faiz Azli Sham. Unfortunately for all those hoping to see the fireworks, though, the polls, which were originally scheduled for April 18, have now been put on hold.
     
  • Selangor Ruler Sultan Sharafuddin Idris Shah has called on the rakyat to stop labelling Perikatan Nasional a “backdoor government” as the Yang di-Pertuan Agong had exercised his constitutional discretionary powers in appointing Muhyiddin premier. We would respectfully suggest that the reason why PN has ‘won’ this label is because voters feel the current administration didn’t not win its mandate at the polls and instead won Putrajaya through defections and party hopping. The YDPA’s role in the process has never been questioned nor disputed. 
     
  • Speaking of Moo, the PM says his new Women and Family Development Minister Rina Harun and her deputy Siti Zailah Mohd Yusoff will need time to appreciate the demands of their ministry. Muhyiddin was responding to critics who claim the duo’s track record doesn’t inspire much confidence. Meanwhile, it seems Siti Zailah has closed her Twitter account following uproar over a post on Covid-19.

“You’ve got to know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em, know when to walk away, know when to run.”

- Kenny Rogers -

IN INTERNATIONAL NEWS

It’s still all about Covid-19 globally. Well, mainly …

  • Wall Street plunged by 12% on Monday, recording its worst showing since 1987, due to worries about an impending recession.
     
  • Former Bond girl Olga Kurylenko, who starred opposite Daniel Craig in Quantum of Solace, has tested positive for Covid-19. Meanwhile, The Wire and Luther star Idris Elba has also been diagnosed with the disease.
     
  • Elsewhere, as panic-buying rears its ugly head in all corners of the world, shoppers in the Netherlands made the news for having come out in droves to stock up on weedTabik spring! Some folks really do know their priorities.
     
  • Oh, and speaking of WTF news items, ISIS, the terror organisation that promotes death by jihad, has called on followers to refrain from travelling to Europe due to Covid-19. Truly. You can’t make this shit up.
     
  • In non-coronavirus news, meanwhile, Amazon has informed booksellers that they will no longer be allowed to sell Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf and other Nazi propaganda books on the site. The move follows years of campaigning by Holocaust charities.

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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