Our Covid numbers see a huge spike, but could our largest contributing cluster have been avoided? It's linked to Top Glove — the glove-making giant that's made a killing profit-wise since the pandemic hit.

In other news, the government warns of a CMCO extension; U̶m̶n̶o̶ BN issues a Budget support ultimatum and the world's biggest tech companies slam an 'abrupt' new rule that could hamper internet connectivity here.

The price we pay?

Top Glove top spot

Just when things were somewhat looking up, we get our hopes dashed. Yesterday saw Malaysia record its highest single-day increase in new cases with a whopping 1,884 infections. [email protected]$kerama!

 

Majority of the cases can be traced to glovemaker Top Glove’s factories in Klang. Over a thousand of the news cases came from the ‘Teratai’ cluster, comprising the company’s workers. 

 

To date, 2,524 cases have been detected within the cluster, resulting in a shutdown of 28 of the glovemaker’s facilities.

 

If you recall, an enhanced movement control order (EMCO) had previously been imposed on the company’s worker dorms in Meru, Selangor, and the surrounding area after hundreds of cases were detected. Despite the curbs, the glovemakers’ factories were allowed to continue operating supposedly with reduced capacity and in adherence to strict SOP. 

 

We get that Top Glove’s the world’s largest producer of disposable rubber gloves (which are in huge demand, especially as it’s a critical component of medical frontliners’ safety gear). The company may well contribute a sizeable chunk of change to Malaysia’s economies. But we gotta ask, why the heck was operations allowed to continue when it became clear cases among the workers were on the rise? Other businesses aren’t granted the same leeway.

Wouldn’t this, as now proven, have put the thousands of hardworking factory workers and staff at risk? The cases have since spread beyond the company’s employees. If this isn’t troubling enough, there’s a real worry some of the non-Top Glove employees infected may not be traceable.

 

At present, it’s unclear whether living conditions in the glovemaker’s dorms contributed to this huge surge in infections. However, a point to note is the company was previously reported to have been on the United States ban list for, among others, concerns of poor employee housing conditions (allegedly! allegedly!). After all, failure to address crowded living sitch among migrant workers was what led to the previous surge in cases in Singapore.

 

Top Glove has claimed, of course, it’s working to resolve the problems. Still, at least one MP — Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman — thinks it’s time to penalise the glovemaker for “neglecting workers’ welfare”. The b̶i̶c̶y̶c̶l̶e̶ ̶s̶h̶o̶r̶t̶s̶ ex-minister has proposed the company be forced to pay taxes on its “supernormal” profits.

 

Top Glove aside, Monday’s Covid-19 stats are also worrying due to the surge recorded in terms of active cases. After wonderfully dipping over the weekend, the figure increased by almost a thousand (999) yesterday.

 

Total active cases now stand at 13,842, while the total death toll is now 337, thanks to two new fatalities recorded yesterday.

CMC-Oh no!

Nothing’s set in stone just yet, but most of us could well be ushering in the new year under lockdown if Covid cases keep rising.

 

According to le gomen, the conditional MCO (CMCO) currently being imposed in several states is based on the Health Ministry’s risk assessment, mainly, the number of cases and infectivity rate in various locales. Longer CMCO may be what the doctor prescribes if we’re to reduce coronavirus infections to near zero.

 

Currently, the conditional lockdown is in place in the Federal Territories (Kuala Lumpur, Labuan and Putrajaya), Kelantan, Negeri Sembilan, Penang, Perak, Sabah and Selangor.

 

An extension would be a real bummer for sure, but we all want to flatten that damned curve. Of course, not everyone can survive a longer lockdown, even a less restrictive one. Small businesses as well as the airline, tourism, F&B and entertainment industries are among those who can ill afford more such curbs.

 

We also have lotsa problems with the willy-nilly chopping and changing of rules and SOPs, as well as the arbitrary and uneven enforcement of said rules. Take the latest rule on business operating hours in CMCO areas, for example. 

 

Previously, the likes of restaurants and convenience stores were permitted to open only from 6am to 10pm. However, the National Security Council has decreed that starting Tuesday, these businesses are being allowed to stay open till midnight.

 

Why? Well, according to Senior Minister (Security Cluster) Ismail Sabri Yaakob, many people had complained, example those unable to get food at 9am after Isyak prayers.

 

SO. Many. Questions. Why is this okay now and not before? Does this mean the gomen’s bowing to complaints at the expense of our safety, or the 10pm ruling was nonsensical to begin with? If the idea’s to avoid crowds, what does the time of day matter? Ya know, it ain’t like Covid is Cinderella and things get all ugly and shit once the clock chimes midnight (or 10pm). 

 

It’s important for people to understand why a rule is in place. Covid SOPs, especially, should take into account health and scientific considerations, like ventilation, space and crowds.

 

Anyway, ridiculous rules notwithstanding, here’re some other important Covid-related highlights from Monday: 

  • DAP’s Charles Santiago has called it a “national shame” and wants the gomen to fly to the aid of over a hundred Malaysian workers currently homeless in Singapore due to restrictions that have prevented daily commutes to Johor. 

    What’s particularly tragic about this affair, we think, is that while Tourism Malaysia has recently been praised for showing love to Singapore, our peeps in government have not stopped to show similar concern for our own citizens in the republic who’re actually suffering (again, allegedly! allegedly!).
     
  • More tweaks appear to have been made to the government’s “green travel bubble” rules, with Tourism Minister Nancy Shukri now saying there’re no capacity restrictions for private vehicles and tourist buses travelling within green areas.
     
  • De facto Religious Affairs Minister Zulkifli Mohamad al-Bakri has said exceptions to the halal rule can be made for vaccines in life-threatening circumstances. 
     
  • BTW, wanna know when and how Malaysians can get their hands on Covid-19 vaccines when these become available? This guide has the answers.

Cabotage and kinks

The world’s biggest tech giants, among them Facebook, Google and Microsoft, have slammed a move by the Malaysian government to remove cabotage exemptions for foreign ships involved in the repair of undersea comms cables. And it seems the fella they’re all pissed off with is Transport Minister Wee Ka Siong.

 

Cabotage policies (we had to Google this shit) are laws enacted to control the transport of goods and/or people within a country’s borders by foreign vehicles/ships/aircraft. In Malaysia, these policies mean that licenses need to be obtained by foreign ships and the likes operating within our borders. 

 

Until quite recently, an exemption existed for vessels involved in repairing submarine cables — those large thingamabobs that lie on seabeds and carry telecom signals which allow for uninterrupted access to the internet. 

 

The tech giants have reportedly cried that they weren’t consulted about the change in rules. Apparently, as of Nov 13, Malaysia’s junked the cabotage exemption, meaning foreign ships with cable laying and repairing capabilities will now have to apply for licences before working within our borders. 

 

Why this matters is simple: Undersea cables, like other comms cables, get damaged from time to time. However, without cabotage exemptions in place, repairs and maintenance could end up taking a long ass time. This could affect severely affect internet stability or worse, cause disruption!

 

Here’s some context: Based on the policies in place in Vietnam, for example, repairs take an average of 12 days. In Singapore, it’s 19 days. In Malaysia, though, the average cable repair time was 27 damned days before the exemption.

 

Suppose you’re wondering why we need foreign vessels to see to our undersea telecoms problems. The answer might be that there appears to be only one local company – Optic Marine Group – that’s equipped to handle sub cable installation and maintenance work.

 

Google and co. have cited concern the abrupt move could create a monopoly for this one Malaysian company.

However, the Malaysia Shipowners Association (Masa) has said the move would not prevent the employment of foreign vessels. He has said Malaysian wanted to develop local capabilities.

 

Wee, while noting many countries had similar cabotage policies, has promised to explain the government’s exemption revocation in Parliament today. However, regardless of what our man might say, there’re mucho questions to be answered. Among them:

  • Why did it take a question in Parliament (by former transport minister Anthony Loke on Nov 17) and a news report in Malaysiakini for this issue to be brought to light?
     
  • Why weren’t stakeholders consulted beforehand?
     
  • Most importantly, is a policy that could potentially hamper Malaysia’s internet connectivity at a time when Covid-19 has pushed many industries online the best solution right now?

FB, Google and the lot have already sent an urgent memorandum to Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin complaining about WeeWee and warning that delays in dealing with telecom infrastructure problems could result in losses of billions of ringgit. That will get Moo’s attention for shore. 

 

In fact, they’ve sent copies of the memo to all ministers except Wee! Forget how embarrassing it must be for Wee to be sidelined in this manner. More importantly, this points to a trust deficit by the international tech companies. Malunya! 

 

The question is, of course, will Moo do anything about it? Watch this space.

Ultimate ultimatum

As the Budget 2021 vote looms and Umno leaders continue to bicker, Barisan Nasional has said it’ll support the government’s fiscal plan, provided, of course, two demands are met.

Umno sec-gen Ahmad “Nasi Goreng Strawberry” Maslan, speaking following a meeting of BN MPs on Monday night, didn’t exactly specify what BN’s twin demands are. However, based on stuff that’s been said over the past two weeks, it’s presumed the coalition’s dead set on getting the PM MooMoo’s gomen to greenlight a one-off withdrawal of up to RM10k for individuals from their EPF Account 1 and an extension to the moratorium on loan repayments.

Finance Minister Tengku Zafrul Tengku Abdul Aziz has until Thursday to consider the demands. Nevertheless, it remains unclear what will indeed happen if Zaf tells BN to go fly a kite. Remember, Dewan Rakyat is set for the first vote on le Budget on Thursday.

What’s also uncertain, by the way, is what exactly BN’s Gua Musang MP Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah’s plans are. 

If you recall from yesterday’s newsletter, he wants Dewan Rakyat Speaker Azhar “Art” Harun to allow a motion of no confidence against Moo before the Budget vote. Yesterday, the man they call Ku Li took his demand one step further by plopping down copies of a letter he’d written to ol’ Art on the table of every MP in the House.

Is Ku Li attempting to force Art’s hand? Or is he hoping someone in the Perikatan Nasional Cabinet will raise the no-confidence motion, which, Artie has said, is the only way such a private motion can be given precedence ahead of gomen matters

Or will the Umno vet forsake all of this and support the Budget if BN’s two demands are met? We’ve no clue! But what we can tell ya is that things also look far from A-Okay across the aisle in Opposition territory ahead of the Budget vote.

 

In Amanah, for example, a great fissure appears to be opening up, with reps supporting Pakatan Harapan big kahuna Anwar Ibrahim on one side, and devotees of former premier Dr Mahathir Mohamad on the other.

FYI, the Amanah leadership has always appeared to be in support of Anwar as the Opposition’s PM candidate. Word is, tension has now ensued as some party’s top peeps now appear in favour of backing Maddey for the big job. 

So far, the strain within the Islamist party has resulted in only one elected state rep – Meru assemblyperson Mohd Fakhrulrazi Mohd Mokhtar – hopping on over to PKR, and a whole lotta sniping. However, if the issues aren’t sorted out soon, you can expect the rift within Amanah to grow way broader.

This and that

And here are the few other odds and ends that we couldn’t quite fit anywhere else:

  • The Finance Ministry is looking at various measures to add to its coffers, including the possible reintroduction of the goods and services tax. The GST, introduced by the old BN government, was abolished when Pakatan came to power in 2018, in favour of the sales and service tax (SST). 
     
  • The family of Irene Chung, the Malaysian student found murdered in Taiwan, wants to sue the Taiwanese gomen as well as Chung’s uni for negligence. The family’s alleging Chung death could’ve been prevented if relevant authorities had taken precautionary measures.

    Chung was found to have been strangled to death by a man whom police have since said targeted at least one other university student.
     
  • A contractor and a company director are the first to be charged under the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act for allegedly attempting to disrupt water services in Selangor. The duo, who are accused of committing the offence between Nov 2-10 in Rawang, were both denied bail. 
     
  • The inquest into the death of Irish-French teenager Nora Anne Quoirin heard how it’s unusual for someone to have trespassed into resort compound where the teen went missing last year. The Dusun Resort’s owner, Helen Marion Todd, told the Coroner’s Court she’d lived on the resort for over 30 years with her family, and claimed the area has always been free from crime.

“Prior to the internet, the last technology that had any real effect on the way people sat down and talked together was the table.”

- Clay Shirky -

IN INTERNATIONAL NEWS

  • AstraZeneca has said its experimental Covid-19 vaccine’s revealed an average efficacy of 70%. The Swedish-British pharma company, that’s developing its treatment with Oxford University, is the latest drugmaker to reveal info on its coronavirus vaccine response.
     
  • US President-elect Joe Biden has unveiled the first members of his Cabinet, and they include a Latino (Cuban-born Alejandro Mayorkas) as the head of Department of Homeland Security and the country’s first woman head of intelligence (Avril Haines). Former secretary of state John Kerry has, meanwhile, been named Uncle Joe’s climate envoy.
     
  • Hong Kong activist Joshua Wong faces up to five years in prison after pleading guilty to charges related to protests outside a police station in 2019. Wong was charged with two other activists. The trio is due to be sentenced on Dec 2.
     
  • Did Israeli PM Netanyahu hold a secret meeting with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on Sunday? An Israeli minister has said it’s true, though Riyadh has rubbished the claims as horse manure. Benji, for his part, has also remained tight-lipped about the so-called meet.
     
  • Patrick Quinn, the co-creator of the Ice Bucket Challenge, has died seven years after being diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). Quinn, 37, and fellow activist Peter Frates initiated the ALS awareness campaign that went viral on social media in mid-2014. Frates passed away last year, aged 34.
     
  • Peeps counting sheep in a remote part of Utah has discovered a mysterious 10ft and 12ft high monolith.

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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