Highway to the danger zone
More than a Wee bit concerning
The government made two major announcements yesterday, and we gotta say, we’re flummoxed.
Both announcements had to do with transportation and flew in the face of what we have been told about the need for social distancing, a new normal which we’ve been practising for the past three months plus.
Let’s start with the thing which will affect most of us: public transportation. All public transportation services – buses, ferries, trains, LRT, MRT – can now operate at full capacity. Yes folks, full load. No need for social distancing.
Express buses are also now allowed to operate at full capacity. But they have to get passengers to register on the MySejahtera app. This is important for contact tracing purposes in case a Covid-19 case crops up among passengers. Oh, and of course, everyone must wear face masks.
But it didn’t end there. Transport Minister Wee Ka Siong said airlines, too, will now be able to operate full capacity flights. He said there would be no requirement for social distancing aboard flights, saying this was in line with International Air Transport Association guidelines for Covid-19.
We don’t mean to be wet blankets, but since the gomen has been nagging us all along about the need for social distancing, why then allow this to happen? What’s the point of having social distancing elsewhere, then?
The government seems to be totally missing the point. Shouldn’t the focus be more on reducing contact between people so as to minimise the possibility of infections, instead of making contact tracing the first priority? What good is having passengers register for the MySejahtera app if you forego social distancing and increase the possibility of infections? All that does is allow other passengers to be traced and contacted when an infection is found among one of them.
And need we remind Wee that just a few days ago, he had scolded Rapid Rail for dropping social distancing protocols without going through the proper channels? Why tick the company off, then, when you’re just gonna drop these protocols a few days later?
And what about the decision for the flights? Is the government pandering to pressure from airline companies? Or, perhaps, the noise from passengers who are complaining about the high price of flight tickets? After all, Wee did specifically mention pricey tickets, saying that it would take time for prices to normalise.
Whatever it is, it feels like a bad decision to allow transportation at full capacity right now. We still are not Covid-free, so the risks of infections and another wave of the pandemic are still there. And with social distancing still a practice in other places, we’re betting more parties, especially eateries, are gonna be demanding they be allowed to operate at full capacity as well.
In other transportation news, Malaysia Airports says there’s been a gradual increase in the number of flights at Kuala Lumpur International Airport following the implementation of the RMCO. The average number of daily flights has increased from 97 to 122, representing a 15% increase.
Meanwhile, Khazanah Nasional has quashed a Bloomberg report stating that the sovereign wealth fund was mulling providing Malaysia Airlines with funds of up to RM5 billion to help it survive the slump induced by the Covid-19 pandemic. Khazanah MD Shahril Ridza Ridzuan says the report was “not true”, adding he didn’t know where the rumours came from.
Pilgrimage a no-go
Since we are on the topic of social distancing in these perilous times, let’s talk about another major announcement yesterday.
The government has decided to postpone sending our Muslim brethren for the pilgrimage this year, after receiving the consent of the Agong, who is the head of Islam in Malaysia. Those whose turn it was this year, however, should fret not as they will be given priority next year, says Tabung Haji, the haj pilgrims fund board.
While de factor Islamic Affairs Minister Zulkifli Mohamad Al-Bakri didn’t mention why this was so, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to deduce one of the reasons is that there is no way in hell (or heaven, as the case may be) that there can be any sort of social distancing during this huge annual pilgrimage season. All in all, just over 31,000 Malaysians were expected to perform the haj this year, and it really sucks that they’ll miss out as for many people, it’s a once in a lifetime event.
Saudi Arabia is generally considering drastically reducing the number of pilgrims allowed to perform the pilgrimage this year to “symbolic numbers”, apparently. So, perhaps, we wouldn’t have been able to send many people anyway, even if we hadn’t decided to stop our pilgrims from travelling.
Speaking of the haj, Hari Raya Aidiladha (more commonly known as Hari Raya Haji), at the end of next month, will see a probably muted celebration since we’re still not Covid-free. The standard operating procedures (SOPs) for the event, including for the sacrificial rituals which accompany the celebration, are expected to be announced in a week or two.
Meanwhile, in other news affecting Muslims in the country, foreigners have been barred from worshipping in mosques and suraus here. Zulkifli says they’ll eventually be allowed to worship again and apologised to them, saying the measure isn’t meant to be discriminatory but Malaysians are the priority as places of worship are gradually reopened. So basically, sorry to discriminate but we have to discriminate. 🤔
Places of worship were ordered closed by the government during the MCO. But now we’re in the recovery MCO (RMCO), mosques and suraus are gradually reopening. In green zones in the Federal Territores, they are allowed to reopen, though only to a third of their respective capacities. Selangor has also followed suit, allowing mosques to have a maximum of 40 worshippers at any one time.
Back up again
So, after several days of only single-digit increases in the number of new daily Covid-19 cases, we’re back in the double digits.
Health DG and national hero Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah said yesterday there were 31 cases, including 11 imported cases, all of whom were Malaysians who returned from Egypt. Of the local transmissions, only one was a Malaysian, with the others being foreigners.
This brings the total number of infections in Malaysia to 8,369. On the bright side, however, there were no new deaths, leaving total fatalities at 118, while recoveries again outnumbered infections at 51, meaning that we now have 7,065 people already discharged for a recovery rate of 84.4%.
We’re still, obviously, far away from beating the pandemic though. And Noor Hisham says we will only be declared Covid-free once we have no infections for 28 days. So yeah, even if we begin having zero infections starting tomorrow, the earliest we’ll officially be declared free of that pesky little virus would be towards the middle of July.
Meanwhile, the true fiscal costs of the pandemic and the various forms of the MCO are beginning to emerge. An official survey has shown that franchising and direct sales operations in the country went down by a massive 80%, while the Statistics Department says Malaysian factories’ sales declined by 33%.
Wholesale and retail sales also fell by 36.6%. But it’s not all doom and gloom. Online retail sales surged by 28.9% and at least one company reported a huge jump in profits. Top Glove, the world’s largest natural rubber glovemaker, posted record earnings of RM347.9 million in the its third quarter ending May 31, thanks to a surge in sales due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Anyhoo, in the interests of trying to keep things as short as possible, here are some other bits of Covid-19 news items in brief:
- The country has enough liquidity to cover both the Prihatin economic stimulus package and the National Economic Recovery Plan, or Penjana, says Moneybags Minister Tengku Zafrul Abdul Aziz.
- The Real Estate and Housing Development Authority believes it’s only through people spending that the economy will recover.
- July will see a new law being tabled in Parliament to deal with business operators who refuse to refund clients for events that were cancelled during the MCO.
- The National Union of the Teaching Profession has recommended that primary schools not be opened till late September.
- The first day of the RMCO, when interstate travel restrictions were lifted, saw a more than double increase in vehicle volume on highways nationwide.
- Cuepacs, the union for civil servants, has urged Tenaga Nasional Bhd to review its discount offer, saying the amount of discounts shouldn’t be based on level of consumption.
He has a dream, a song to sing
We’ll give Anwar Ibrahim one thing: he never gives up on his dream.
Anwar was DPM to PM4/7 Dr Mahathir Mohamad in the late 1990s, heir apparent and perhaps cocksure of his place as the country’s fifth Supreme Leader. Then ol’ Maddey decided he was fed up with the man he had himself brought in to Umno, sacked him and, some say, had him arrested.
Anwar had PM dreams again in 2008, when he tried to engineer the defection of Barisan Nasional MPs to his then-Pakatan Rakyat coalition and take over the government. Anwar claimed that move failed because then-PM Abdullah Ahmad Badawi rejected his request for a special sitting of Parliament to push the move through.
A few years later, in 2014, Anwar even had a failed mini-coup within his own party! If you remember the now-infamous Kajang Move, you’ll recall that it was Anwar who was supposed to replace Khalid Ibrahim and take over as Selangor Menteri Besar. Instead, fate (or hubris?) screwed Anwar over again and it was Azmin Ali who eventually emerged the biggest winner and new Selangor MB.
Fast forward to today, and it’s the Mahathir-Anwar saga again. The friends-turned-enemies became friends again (or is that frenemies?), joining forces to oust Barisan Nasional in a stunning election win. And though Anwar was again in prison at the time, he was released soon after and promised that he would succeed our favourite nonagenarian, who had once again assumed the mantle of Great Leader. But that transition plan seemed to go bust with squabbling over when it would take place.
Then the Sheraton Move took place, and Anwar was once again left with a shattered PM-ship dream. But one thing about our boy is that he certainly can take a licking and still keep ticking.
Despite all that’s happened, Anwar is still confident Pakatan can wrest control of Putrajaya. In fact, he’s even “cautiously confident” he’ll be Pakatan’s PM candidate.
But is he counting his cocks before they hatch? After all, discussions over the matter are still ongoing. Then there’s still the question of a certain former PM twice-over who seemingly wants the PM’s office even more than Brother Anwar.
A report claims Anwar is indeed the Pakatan Harapan Plus (that’s Pakatan plus their allies, like Sabah’s Warisan and the Bersatu faction which supports Mahathir) candidate for PM, but Maddey has apparently put himself forward as a candidate as well. And our indecisive friends are at an impasse.
It seems that Mads had proposed himself as PM and Anwar as DPM for an interim period of six months, after which he would hand over the reins of the country to the latter. But seriously, what’s the point of an interim period of six months? Is Mahathir merely trying to save face, considering it was his resignation that allowed for Muhyiddin Yassin to become PM? Or perhaps he wants to screw Anwar over again. Maybe he just refuses to go gentle into that good night.
Let’s face it. Maddey had his chance for two years and blew it. Regardless of whether his motivations are noble or nefarious, it’s too late now to turn back the clock and do what he was supposed to do much, much earlier – keep his promise to Anwar, his coalition partners and the people of Malaysia.
Meanwhile. It feels like Anwar is doing a Wile E. Coyote impersonation, holding a Super Genius name card, while desperately trying more and more ludicrous Acme schemes to catch the Perikatan Nasional roadrunner. And even though you may identify with his cause or sympathise with his years of incarceration and may root for him, that nagging sense is this guy is just doomed to fail in his quest for Putrajaya.
Whatever it is, Anwar says Pakatan will not trigger a snap election and is working towards getting a comfortable majority in the Dewan Rakyat so that they can retake Putrajaya. He says the Perikatan government is ruling the country with impunity and the lack of checks and balances means Pakatan can’t wait till the 15th general election to take over.
You know, the kind of checks and balances Harapan could have put in place, or the kind of draconian laws they could have repealed, when they were in power, but did not?
Other matters arising
Here are a few other relevant or interesting things that came out yesterday:
- Sabah Umno has denied claims by CM and Warisan president Shafie Apdal that they are trying to buy away some Warisan reps in a bid to gain control of the state government. A political party not trying to buy over another’s reps? Now that would be surprising.
- The Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) has arrested three directors of a company for allegedly bribing Tourism Malaysia officers to obtain a RM90 million project. The trio have reportedly identified these Tourism officers and more arrests are expected.
- Sabah Infrastructure Development Minister Peter Anthony was yesterday charged with five counts of money laundering to the tune of RM8.75 million.
- Former federal court judge Gopal Sri Ram has refused to comment on controversial allegations by Mohamed Apandi Ali that he had tried to coax the former attorney-general to arrest then PM Najib Razak on the behest of PM4 Mahathir in 2018.
- Former Umno ministers Rais Yatim and Radzi Sheikh Ahmad were among five people yesterday sworn in as senators.
- After four years, the trial of a former army doctor and five others accused of murdering DPP Anthony Kevin Morais in 2015 ended yesterday, with the trial judge setting July 10 to announce his decision.
- The trial of a teen accused of the murder of 23 people in a fire at a tahfiz school in 2017 resumed yesterday following a long break due to the MCO with a witness testifying that the accused had smoked cannabis and played snooker in the hours leading up to the incident.
- This one’s a couple of days old, but is too funny to ignore. So this guy in Alor Setar was caught red-handed growing ganja in his house. His excuse? He thought they were bamboo trees!
“We promise according to our hopes and perform according to our fears.”
- Francois de La Rochefoucauld -
IN INTERNATIONAL NEWS
- In a rare show that the brotherhood of policemen can only go so far, Minneapolis police officers have condemned the actions of their now former colleague charged with the killing of black American George Floyd, saying they were prepared to accept “change, reform and rebuilding”. Meanwhile, US pop group Lady Antebellum has changed its name to Lady A due to the links of the word “antebellum” to the slavery era during the period before the Civil War.
- Wall Street plunged to its biggest one-day loss since March 16 over uncertainties over the Covid-19 pandemic. In other coronavirus news, a Brazil announced an agreement with a Chinese company to produce a vaccine which will be tested on 9,000 people in Sao Paolo beginning next month.
- US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s appearance alongside Taiwan President Tsai Ing-Wen and a Hong Kong activist is certain to anger China, straining relations between the two superpowers even further.
- A court in Norway has sentenced a right-wing extremist to at least 21 years in prison for an attack on a mosque last year and killing his step-sister in a racially motivated act.
- Japanese paediatrician Tomisaku Kawasaki, who discovered the mysterious Kawasaki disease in 1967, has died at the age of 95.