There’s good news and bad news as far as Covid-19 is concerned. While 13 clusters have ended, another has made an appearance, this time among undocumented foreigners.

Meanwhile, the pregnant woman who traveled from the Ampang red zone to “green” Kelantan before testing positive for Covid-19 was allowed to do so for reasons that beggar belief.

In other news, the rift in Bersatu is getting bigger, with the party’s Youth wing now siding with its chairman and calling for party polls to happen soon; and, we learnt what “Project PITA” in 1MDB stood for (and it ain’t polite, shall we say).

And finally, folks - it's gonna be a long weekend, with the Aidilfitri holidays falling on Monday and Tuesday. It'll be a weird one this year, with us not being able to visit our Muslim friends and gorge on rendang and lemang. We hope you take care, social distance and stay safe. Between The Lines will be back in your mailbox on Wednesday.

Selamat Hari Raya, maaf zahir dan batin!

Another Covid clusterf*#k?

A good news, bad news kinda day

This is the good news. The Health Ministry says 13 clusters of Covid-19 cases have ended, meaning that no one who was previously infected in these clusters is passing along the virus to anyone else. 
 
The bad news is that another cluster has been identified, among undocumented foreign immigrants being held at an Immigration depot in Bukit Jalil. So far, there have been 35 cases identified at the depot, with all but one having been reported yesterday. 
 
Here’s the thing, though. All those found to have been infected have been stuck in the depot since before the MCO began. What this means is that they were infected while in the depot, by somebody who had come in after them. Why is this a problem? Because this group was supposed to have been isolated from those detained during Covid roundups to prevent exactly this kind of thing from happening!

How did these 35 poor souls get infected? Well, Health DG Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah doesn’t have an answer for that, but says the ministry is still investigating the source of the infections. And, after sanitising the depot, the ministry will check all other Immigration detention facilities.

Situations like these are EXACTLY what many people was warning the government about: that the overcrowded and dense conditions at places like detention centres carried a high risk of spreading Covid-19.

In fact, just yesterday the 10 United Nations experts urged authorities to stop crackdowns on foreigners during the pandemic, saying alternatives to detention should be considered first during a pandemic. 
 
This is not to gainsay the fact that the foreign worker community is more at risk by virtue of their general living conditions – look at Singapore. As of yesterday, there were almost 30,000 cases there, of which 27,000 were foreign workers

But we’ve said before that these arrests wouldn’t be good as they would discourage foreigners from coming forward to get themselves tested and treated, even if they suspected that they were infected. This blitz has sent the migrant worker community into a blind panic, with many going into hiding and some even escaping from detention centres. They have good cause to be nervous as we’ve been deporting illegals in the hundreds, including this group from Myanmar who later turned out to include Covid-positive people among them.  
 
The fear of possible infections among – and passed from – foreigners is why, despite the government announcing that non-Muslim places of worship could, under strict SOPs, open in green zones from June 10, Noor Hisham says only Malaysians can attend religious gatherings. 

Why did the chicken cross the road?

So, we all wondered how the pregnant woman who tested positive for Covid-19 in Kelantan was allowed to cross state lines (several of them, mind you), especially when she was from Ampang, a red zone.
 
Yesterday, we learned it was for health reasons, apparently. But, according to defence minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob and her own mother, she merely wanted to give birth in her hometown. Now we’re really wondering how this could have happened, cos wanting to have your baby in your hometown is surely a flimsy excuse to be listed as “medical reasons”. What’s worse is that, instead of going straight home, the woman stopped to visit several relatives along the way because she “missed them”. 
 
How could the police have allowed her to travel from a red zone to Kelantan, which was a green state for a long time until she tested positive? And merely because she expressed a wish to give birth in her hometown? This flies in the face of all the efforts which were made in past to bar interstate travel. And all the measures still being taken, for that matter.
 
Her case brings up concerns about interstate travel during this crucial period when the balik kampung rush for Hari Raya would have usually taken place. It’s good that such travel has been banned by the authorities, with anyone attempting to do so not only to be told to turn back but issued compound fines on the spot.
 
But even then, there are those who are stubborn. Highways are said to be chockablock with traffic and some states, like Selangor, have reported a tremendous increase in traffic as people, despite all warnings, still attempt to go back to their hometowns. 
 
As we said yesterday, the next week or so, as we celebrate Raya, will be crucial. If SOPs like social distancing and other regulations are not followed, we could see an increase in the number of infections. And all our hard work in keeping ourselves home will have been for nothing.
 
To bring you up to speed, here are our latest numbers. Yesterday saw 50 new Covid-19 cases, for a total of 7,059, while 90 people were discharged, bringing that total to 5,796 for a recovery rate of 82.1. With no new fatalities, the death toll remains at 114
 
Anyhoo, here’s the rest of the pertinent Covid-19 stories floating around:

  • The Malaysian Employers Federation has warned that the nation could see its unemployment rate, currently at 3.9% with 610,000 people jobless, increase to double digits should the current economic uncertainties persist. The statement was lambasted by the Malaysian Trades Union Congress which said this was merely the federation’s way of pressuring the government into giving more concessions and financial aid to the business community. 
     
  • Wisma Putra is looking into bringing home Malaysian students from the UK, where Covid-19 numbers are steadily increasing. 
     
  • Five official government events, including the Agong’s Hari Raya open house and that of the PM and Cabinet ministers, have been canceled due to Covid-19. 
     
  • Kedah has decided to follow Selangor’s lead in barring Muslims from cemetery visits during the coming Raya period. 
     
  • A decision on whether Malaysians will be allowed to go on pilgrimage this year will be announced after Hari Raya. This will have to first take into account whether Saudi Arabia will be allowing pilgrimages. 
     
  • Churches and temples have cancelled weddings until after July 31. Meanwhile, the Council of Churches of Malaysia says its member churches (Anglican, Lutheran, Methodist, Syrian Christian and Presbyterian) will remain closed until after the MCO, in any form, is completely lifted. 

And the rift goes on

That almighty split in Bersatu seems nowhere near being resolved as the infighting between factions aligned to chairman (is he or isn’t he?) Dr Mahathir Mohamad and president Muhyiddin Yassin continued making statements yesterday.
 
Bersatu Youth says it doesn’t recognise the Registrar of Societies (RoS) letter saying Maddey had resigned as chairman and that Moo was acting chairman. That ain’t too much of a shocker considering the wing is led by Mahathir fanboy and head cheerleader Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman. Armada, as the wing is known, is calling for party elections to be held to resolve the crisis, which may actually be a smart thing. 
 
(SIDE NOTE: The RoS is currently reviewing a letter sent by Mahathir regarding his position as chairman.) 
 
You see, while dear ol’ Mads has won the chairmanship uncontested, Muhyiddin is facing a challenge from Maddey Jr AKA Mukhriz Mahathir, who is currently deputy president. Should there be more members supporting Mahathir, then Mukhriz will likely win the presidency. Not good, perhaps, for democracy within the party as this would allow one family to dominate Bersatu, much like the Lim Kit Siang-Lim Guan Eng stranglehold on DAP. But it would resolve much of the infighting within Bersatu.
 
What this would also do is probably lead to another change in government. Mahathir is against working with the other members of Perikatan, especially Umno. So that would probably mean there would be no Perikatan. In order for Maddey, or even Mukhriz for that matter, to return to power, they would likely bring Bersatu back to the Pakatan fold, even if that means that someone else (read: Anwar Ibrahim) becoming PM.
 
And where would that leave MooMoo? Well, he can either leave the party, likely taking a majority of his supporters with him, or stay on and make life a living hell for Mads, much like what the latter is doing to him now.
 
That all depends, of course, on whether Mukhriz can beat Muhyiddin at the polls. Seven Kedah Bersatu division leaders and at least the Bersatu Youth chief are Mahathir supporters, so you can bet the party elections will see a stiff fight between Muhyiddin and Mukhriz. 
 
But, is there another trick up Moo’s sleeve? According to this sources story, Bersatu is mulling doing away with the chairman’s position. This would be tricky as it would involve amending the party’s constitution and that would require an emergency supreme council meeting – the same supreme council which Mahathir and son are members of. There are also supporters of Maddey and Mukhriz among the council members as well. And let’s not forget Maddey has already won the chairmanship uncontested. 
 
Of course, by the time that happens, Mahathir and his supporters may have already been given the boot from the party. According to supreme council member Wan Saiful Wan Jan, Bersatu members who sat with the opposition in Parliament should lose their memberships automatically, according to the party’s constitution. 
 
However, a lawyer who is a member of Maddey’s legal team says Wan Saiful got his party constitution all wrong as it only mentions that a member automatically loses his membership only if he joins another party, becomes an independent candidate at an election or nominates or supports another party’s election candidate. Besides, says former Bersatu sec-gen Marzuki Yahya, Mahathir and Co. sat at the seats meant for independent reps and not with the opposition. 
 
Surely though, there is a case for disciplinary action being instituted against Maddey and the Bersatu MPs who sat with him? After all, they are Bersatu members and Bersatu is part of Perikatan, however loose a pact it may be. And Maddey has openly said he and the opposition would roundly vote against any bill brought by the government in Parliament. Isn’t that a sign that he considers himself part of the opposition, no matter where he sits in the Dewan Rakyat?
 
Meanwhile, it’s not as though Pakatan is free of infighting as well. Pakatan chairman Anwar has verified that an audio clip of proceedings at a Feb 21 Pakatan presidential council meeting, the last before Bersatu left the coalition, is genuine. The clip revealed that some people were calling for Anwar to pressure Mahathir, who was then PM, to fix a date for handing over the reins of the nation to his then successor. However, Anwar declined to do so as he didn’t want to give certain “traitors” an excuse to leave Pakatan. 
 
What this shows is that within even the highest levels of the Pakatan setup, there are those who can’t be trusted. What else has been leaked? To whom has this information been leaked? What more will be leaked? Who knows? But what we do know is that this leaked audio leaves Anwar coming out smelling like roses, so make of that what you will.

Dan lain-lain

If you’re like us, you’d probably laugh at this reference to Project PITA in former PM Najib Razak’s 1MDB court case yesterday. Apparently, that was the name 1MDB’s management gave the company’s attempts to retrieve money transferred out of the country as “investments”. It was an inside joke as PITA stood for “pain in the ass”
 
Former 1MDB CEO Shahrol Azral Ibrahim Halmi said this when asked by Jibby’s defence lead Shafee Abdullah about a “Project PITA” which was part of the minutes of a board meeting on March 2, 2012. The reference was for attempts by 1MDB to retrieve money from PetroSaudi International, its erstwhile partner in a joint venture.
 
An exchange between Shafee and Shahrol also had us in stitches when the latter testified that he trusted businessman Low Taek Jho, better known as Jho Low, “100%” as he had access to Najib, the PM at the time. He claimed he was well known for making good nasi goreng and treated Low to some at one time. Our favourite fugitive financier said he enjoyed it so much that he wanted to give some to Jibby, and later claimed the Jibster had said it was good. When Shafee said he didn’t believe this and thought Low had kept the fried rice all to himself, given his size, Shahrol offered to cook some for the lawyer. Was all of this High Court or Comedy Court? 🧐
 
Anyway, to keep things as short as possible, here are the other big items from the news yesterday:

  • Former PM Mahathir has again questioned the decision to give Jibby’s stepson Riza Aziz a discharge not amounting to acquittal, saying this sets a dangerous precedent
     
  • Perlis has become the second state after Sabah to lower the voting age to 18 and the minimum age for electoral candidates from 21 to 18. 
     
  • The Transport Ministry has launched an online survey to, ostensibly, get the views of the public on drink driving. The survey questionnaire however is interesting in that the way the questions are structured shows that along with getting people’s opinions, the ministry is also trying to gauge the levels of awareness, and to map people’s views – as well as their own drinking habits – to demographic and socioeconomic data. We hope the results are made public as they could be very interesting.
     
  • Penang has lowered the speed limit in the George Town heritage enclave to 40kph to cater to the high traffic volume as well as to make things safer for pedestrians and cyclists. 
     
  • In a move which is set to give a boost to the protection of endangered turtles, Terengganu has finally banned the trade of turtle eggs

“Wise and humane management of the patient is the best safeguard against infection.”

- Florence Nightingale -

IN INTERNATIONAL NEWS

  • With more than 5 million people having already been infected with Covid-19 and 330,000 people dead around the world, there was much curiosity about the results of Sweden’s “herd immunity” approach to the pandemic. Having adopted more relaxed measures compared to other nations, only 7% of people in Sweden have developed coronavirus antibodies, much less than the minimum 70% needed to develop herd immunity. 
     
  • Apple and Google have developed a contact tracing platform and are offering it to governments around the world. 
     
  • Olympics chief Thomas Bach says 2021 would be the last option for holding the Tokyo Olympics, originally scheduled for this year but delayed because of the Covid-19 pandemic. 
     
  • China is proposing a controversial new security law for Hong Kong that will see sedition, secession and subversion banned in the special administrative region. 
     
  • The US has pulled out of the 35-nation Open Skies treaty which allows for unarmed surveillance flights over member nations. This is the second treaty that the Trump administration has pulled out of, following last year’s withdrawal from the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty with Russia. 

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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