Global pandemic declared
Time to make a tough call
The World Health Organisation has declared the coronavirus a pandemic, with 114 countries reporting nearly 120,000 cases. WHO chief Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus says the number of deaths and the number of affected countries are expected to climb even higher “in the days and weeks ahead”.
In Malaysia, some measure of alarm must have been felt when news broke yesterday that a Bruneian man infected with Covid-19 was reported to have attended a four-day religious gathering of 10,000 people in Sri Petaling in KL late last month.
Health authorities in all states are now trying to track some 5,000 Malaysians who were among the participants of the gathering after the man, Brunei’s first case of Covid-19 infection, was confirmed as having tested positive on Monday. He was said to have attended the function from Feb 27 to March 1, then flown back home on March 3.
Health DG Noor Hisham Abdullah said the 53-year-old also went on a day trip to Miri on March 6. He started showing Covid-19 symptoms on March 8 before being confirmed infected the following day.
Earlier estimates of the incubation period for Covid-19 were put anywhere between 14 and 21 days, but a new study puts the incubation period at an average of 5.1 days. If this is correct, then it is highly likely that the Bruneian man caught it while in Malaysia, and possibly while attending the religious gathering.
With a potentially huge number of people exposed to the virus from just one gathering, it may be time to stop all mass gatherings here, including religious ones. Churches in Singapore and Hong Kong last month have already suspended masses, while Iran has stopped Friday prayers.
To be fair, Malaysian places of worship have already put into place certain measures to mitigate the spread of Covid-19. Churches have advised priests to sanitise their hands before distributing Holy Communion, and after too. Church members who are ill or experience respiratory problems have also been exempted from attending services or masses on Sundays, traditionally a day of obligation for Christians.
But is this enough? Or should we put a stop altogether to mass religious gatherings, especially considering two more members of a church in Puchong have contracted Covid-19, the second and third cases at the church so far.
20 new cases have been reported in Malaysia, bringing the total number to 149. However, Patient 76 has fully recovered, the 26th to do so since the outbreak here on Jan 25. You can keep track of Covid-19 cases here.
Meanwhile, the government has announced several measures relating to the coronavirus, including the blanket ban of all citizens of and arrivals from Italy, Iran and South Korea. However, Malaysians, Malaysian permanent residents and long-term pass holders arriving from the three countries will not be barred from entry, but will be issued a 14-day order to undergo supervision and observation from home.
The Cabinet is reviewing the economic stimulus package, announced barely two weeks ago by then interim PM Dr Mahathir Mohamad, to ensure target segments are given priority, and restore investor confidence. PM Muhyiddin Yassin said an Economic Action Council would be formed to tackle problems arising from Covid-19 and falling oil prices.
Our glorious new PM has also announced the setting up of a special fund to help Covid-19 victims, with the gomen allocating RM1 million for it. Muhyiddin says he hopes the rakyat will also contribute to the fund. So we’ve gone from Tabung Harapan to Tabung Perikatan?
Sucking up to Saudis?
PM Muhyiddin chaired his first Cabinet meeting as PM yesterday, and he and several of his new ministers made a slew of announcements following the meeting.
Perhaps the most interesting of the lot came from new Foreign Affairs Minister Hishammuddin Hussein, who said he was placing mending ties with Saudi Arabia and India, which is planning a ban on import of Malaysian palm oil, as his priority. Though the man who proudly goes by H2O didn’t state why Putrajaya has strained ties with the kingdom, it’s suspected that it’s over December’s KL Summit, organised by the previous Pakatan government.
Meanwhile, Muhyiddin has instructed all ministers to declare their assets to the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission within a month and reminded them that they needed to be committed to fighting corruption. We don’t know if this is merely a move designed to assuage concerns that kleptocrats have returned to power, as claimed by many, but it’s a laudable stance by the new PM.
While that may get The Moo some support from the masses, one which will definitely prove not so popular (and that’s an understatement) is the announcement that the gomen will study proposals to bring back GST. To be fair, though, Muhyiddin did say that he would review all tax systems as part of the new gomen’s effort to rein in living costs.
Our new PM also announced that, even though the four senior ministers are equal in rank, he had left instructions that one Azmin Ali would chair Cabinet meetings and do whatever else necessary. That makes Azmin the de facto DPM, we suppose. Oh how his star has risen since frogging it out of PKR and into Bersatu. If Azmin is unavailable, the next in line to chair meetings would be Defence Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob, who had served as opposition leader when Pakatan was running the country.
But regardless of who’s chairing the meetings, there are a whole bunch of MPs out there who are bitching and moaning about the Cabinet makeup. These include Azalina Othman (whose argument is stupid), to Orang Asli MP Ramli Mohd Nor (whose argument is valid), Bung Mokhtar Radin (who ran out of worthwhile things to say years ago) and Tiong King Sing (who threw the hissy fit heard around Malaysia).
Muhyiddin, meanwhile, says he would prefer to lead the gomen till the next general election instead of calling for snap polls. Hello Captain Obvious! Did anybody expect him to say he would prefer snap polls amidst criticisms about backdoor governments and calls for fresh elections? But Muhyiddin was responding to a cryptic tweet from new FT Minister Annuar Musa.
You see, Annuar had tweeted something about hoping the “front door” being opened soon and Parliament dissolved, after the issue with Covid-19 and the “damage left by the Pakatan government” had been fixed. Annuar, however, later clarified that what he meant was not to ask for Parliament to be dissolved immediately but after the new gomen had delivered. To fix the “damage” alone, he said, would take two to three years. Yeah. OK. So right up to when new polls must be called then.
In other announcements, new Education Minister Mohd Radzi Md Jidin says he will be looking into several current policies, including the teaching of science and mathematics in English (PPSMI) and the introduction of Jawi content to Bahasa Malaysia Year 4. What’s important, he says, is to find the best way forward for our children.
Are we ever gonna see the end to this whole on-again, off-again PPSMI nonsense??!? Sheesh!
More Maddey moaning
Another thing Muhyiddin said yesterday which was not really Cabinet related was that he had written (Email? Snail mail? SMS? WhatsApp? Telegram? Message in a bottle?) to former boss Maddey to ask for forgiveness for anything he may have done to hurt his feelings. He also said he wanted Mads to endorse the gomen.
Errr… Moo, we definitely think you did something to hurt his feelings, what with taking over as PM and all.
Anyhoo, Muhyiddin said this after Mahathir admitted the so-called Perikatan Nasional gomen was here to stay, at least until the next general election, and that a vote of no confidence in Parliament would likely fail. Maddey also said it was former PM and arch-nemesis when Pakatan was in power, Najib Razak, who was really the one who had toppled the gomen.
But will Mahathir forgive Muhyiddin? Well, judging from another statement from our PM4 and PM7, maybe not. Maddey said he lost some of his supporters because Moo offered some of them “sweets” in the form of Cabinet positions.
But we have to remind our beloved twice former (in?)glorious leader that what is now infamously known as the “Sheraton Move” was made to prevent PKR president Anwar Ibrahim from taking over as PM after you. These people (yes, your formerly beloved Umno among them) wanted you to stick on as PM until the next election.
But you resigned because you didn’t want to work with Umno, causing the entire Cabinet, by law, to be given the boot, and eventually leading to the collapse of the Pakatan federal gomen (and several state gomens we might add). So the plotting and the sweets wouldn’t have succeeded if you hadn’t made the wrong moves. And did we mention you would still be in power?
Meanwhile, all this self pity style statements probably led to the King of Internet Trolls himself, Jibby Razak, taking a swipe at Mads and the previous government. Calling the Pakatan gomen a “gagalkrasi”, the Jibster said if they had continued to helm the country, Malaysia’s national debt would have risen to RM1.2 trillion, considering it had ballooned by RM136.8 billion in a matter of 22 months, excluding the issuance of samurai bonds.
OK, Jibs. We believe you. You would know right? After all, didn’t our debt reach RM1 trillion under your brilliant leadership as PM and Finance Minister?
God rest ye merry gentlemen
Speaking of our former illustrious leader, Najib’s defence in the SRC International trial in relation to RM42 million of the company’s funds ending up in his personal bank accounts ended yesterday with the testimony of the last witness, MACC officer Regjit Singh. But if you thought we will finally soon see a conclusion to the first case involving Jibby, think again.
We’re gonna have to wait another couple of months at least, with justice Mohd Nazlan Mohd Ghazali setting May 12,13,15 and 18 for oral submissions. After that, there’s no telling how long it will take for the judge to make his decision and deliver it.
Earlier, former MACC chief Dzulkifli Ahmad was grilled by lead prosecutor V. Sithambaram over audio clips of phone conversations purportedly proving that he and the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) attempting to cover up Najib’s role in misappropriation of 1MDB and SRC funds. Dzulkifli refused to answer questions saying that the clips, which had been revealed by MACC earlier this year, were now being investigated by police.
Sithambaram pressed the claim that Dzulkifli and the AGC had attempted to cover up the issue, saying that when the AGC returned the MACC investigation papers in 2015, it was all a “sandiwara” and that the AGC had no intention at all of charging Najib with anything. Dzulkifli, of course, denied this as a “blatant accusation”.
Anyway, with the defence resting, perhaps a look back at their arguments is in order. You can read about five key takeaways from the defence’s case here.
“You can't take a knife on a plane anymore, but you can get on carrying a virus.”
- David Quammen -
IN INTERNATIONAL NEWS
- Stock markets plunged following news of the classification of the Covid-19 outbreak as a pandemic, with US health authorities saying “many millions” of people in America could end up being infected and German chancellor Angela Merkel saying up to 70% of her countrymen could contract the virus. A defiant US President Donald Trump, however, has refused to cancel his rallies ahead of the November presidential race. Denmark, however, has shut schools and universities as the number of cases there hit 514, a 10-fold surge since Monday. You can get live updates on the coronavirus here.
- Disgraced Hollywood film producer Harvey Weinstein has been sentenced to 23 years in prison for a first-degree criminal sexual act against production assistant Miriam Haley in 2006 and the third-degree rape of aspiring actress Jessica Mann in 2013. He is still facing further criminal charges, for rape and sexual assault, in Los Angeles, where officials have started extradition proceedings.
- Iran’s aviation authority has agreed to send black boxes from a Ukrainian jetliner shot down in Tehran to Kiev for analysis, ending a two-month standoff. The aircraft was downed on Jan 8, killing all 176 people on board.
- Scientists have discovered a new species of dinosaur inside a 99-million-old amber from northern Myanmar. The specimen, of a bird-like skull, is said to be the smallest known dinosaur.
- Liverpool’s Champions League title defense was ended in stunning fashion after they were downed 2-3 at home to Atletico Madrid. The loss also saw their 25-match unbeaten European run at home come to an end. Well, at least they have the league sewn up!