In yesterday's newsletter, we, like the rest of Malaysia, were still referring to our current situation as Phase 4 of the MCO. Well, guess what?We were all wrong, folks! We’re in Phase 5. Well, at least that’s what we’re being told now.
 
Also in the news, Opposition leaders demand a longer Parliament meeting, new Covid-19 cases go back down to two digits daily, and Malaysians make a beeline for pawn shops. 

And lastly, if you're wondering what our new normal actually looks like (for now at least), check out these photos of Malaysians as they began venturing out after almost seven weeks of isolation.

We're now in MCO Phase 5. But what does that mean?

The times have a-changed

A few days ago, it seemed like, despite the relaxation of a whole bunch of rules, we were still in Phase 4 of the Movement Control Order (MCO). Yesterday, though, we were informed that Malaysia has now entered Phase 5. Confused? We don’t blame you.

Essentially, what you need to know is that a new set of rules and regulations have been gazetted. So while the Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases Act is still very much in force, the updated regulations, which took effect yesterday, mean the laws pertaining to MCO Phase 4 no longer apply.

Allow us to break it down in the form of an example: Under the new rules, as many as four people from the same family can now travel in a car together, right? Well, that means the two-to-a-car rule, which came into force just last week, no longer applies.

What it also means, Defence Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob says, is that effective Monday, May 4, the whole country will be subject to the new regulations. In short, all the state governments that previously snubbed the easing of curbs will now have to suck it up and adhere to Phase 5 a.k.a. Conditional Movement Control Order (CMCO) rules.

(Note: The only areas exempted from adhering to the new rules, obviously, are those currently placed under enhanced restricted movement.)

It’s not just the government saying all this too. A whole bunch of lawyers are in agreement. According to them, Article 81 of the Federal Constitution obliges states to comply with federal laws, like the newly gazetted regulations, and not impede or prejudice the exercise of Putrajaya’s executive authority.

Now, arguably, announcing added restrictions, like Selangor did with dining-in, doesn’t technically impede or prejudice the Federal Government’s authority. But how exactly are states gonna make businesses obey the stricter rules when failure to comply isn’t considered breaking the law? There’d be a further problem too in the form of possible lawsuits by companies prevented from reopening for business.

The Federation of Malaysian Manufacturers, among others, had previously warned that major disruptions could occur if businesses didn’t all resume at the same time. Now, it seems businesses that feel they’ve been affected by state governments holding back from implementing the CMCO can seek legal redress.

On the flip side, there’s the argument made by Parliament Federal-State Relations Select Committee chairperson Hassan Abdul Karim who, pointing to the Constitution, says states have joint jurisdiction with the federal government on matters related to health.

Sigh. Can you say “bloody mess”? It really looks like this could swell into a full-blown constitutional crisis if not resolved quickly and properly.

By the way, the new Federal gazette doesn’t exactly detail all the activities currently allowed (for that you’ve gotta refer to the National Security Council website). However, it does list 13 categories of stuff still barred. These include hairdressing services and religious and cultural activities that involve large gatherings. Oh, and speaking of religious gatherings, you should know this particular gazette could soon be updated further, what with the powers-that-be looking at the possibility reopening mosques and suraus.

The Famous Five make a statement

So yes, Malaysia is open for business. And ‘cos of that, Opposition politicians are demanding a two-week Parliamentary meeting be held in place of the scheduled single-day sitting on May 18.

If you recall, the Perikatan Nasional government had previously pushed the first meeting of Parliament this year from March to May. Later, citing Covid-19 and movement restrictions, it said there’d only be a single day’s sitting. Thing is while the excuses reasons may have been acceptable when the country was locked down and dealing with an increasing number of infections, they make absolutely no sense now.

Which is why the Opposition’s Power Rangers – Bersatu chairman Dr Mahathir Mohamad, PKR boss Anwar Ibrahim, DAP sec-gen Lim Guan Eng, Amanah’s professional mic hurler Mohamad Sabu and Parti Warisan Sabah bossman Mohd Shafie Apdal – are calling bullshit and demanding a longer meeting.

As we mentioned yesterday, with even open court sessions resuming, there really is no good reason for the legislature to be still shut. Plus, if MPs’ seating positions for the one-day session are already being adjusted to ensure social distancing, why not just maintain the same for longer? For the record, despite the country’s lockdown, Singapore’s Parliament has continued to meet, with MPs masking up and keeping their distance. So it’s definitely do-able!

Incidentally, there’s a petition online, championed by Uncle Lim Kit Siang, calling Perikatan’s move farcical and demanding at least a two-week meeting, excluding a break for Hari Raya, of course. Sign it or don’t sign it, the choice is yours, but before you make a decision, consider this bit from the Malaysian Parliament’s website:

Parliament passes Federal laws, makes amendments to existing Federal laws, examines the government’s policies, approves the government’s expenditures and approves new taxes. Parliament also serves as the forum to discuss matters of public interest.

Yes, new policies have and are being put in place. Yes, financial allocations have been promised and are currently being disbursed. Yes, we have a matter of real pubic interest on our hands. But no, not one goddamn thing has been debated by those we’ve elected to represent us.

Still not outta the woods

After two consecutive days that saw three-digit increases, we were back down to two figures on Monday, with just 55 new infections recorded. In better news, not only were 71 patients discharged, not a single death was registered!

Still, while a 70.58% recovery rate is nothing to scoff at, it might be too early to break out the Moët as 28 people are still in intensive care and three new areas – two in Selayang and one in Chow Kit – have been placed under enhanced MCO (EMCO)

Also, on the very day their EMCO were lifted, the Malayan and Selangor Mansion flats saw a spate of new infections. Plus, a new cluster at a housing area in Sarawak has emerged. And guess what? The cluster’s linked to that tabligh gathering!

According to Health Director-General Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah, the 37 infections there are thanks to one fellow who attended the gathering in Seri Petaling in late February and then returned home and generously passed it on to family members, colleagues and people at a local mosque. 🤦‍♂️

On the cases at the Malayan and Selangor Mansions, meanwhile, Dr Noor Hisham has promised that all areas previously placed under EMCO will continue to be monitored. Even so, is it not still a little nerve-wracking that the whole country’s reopening for business even as new cases are being detected?

True, we can’t keep living in fear. But people are gonna be anxious, especially considering studies like this one which suggests the actual number of Covid-19 infections could be 10 times that of confirmed cases! 

In any case, as we attempt to get back to the way things were, here’re some of the other important coronavirus-related news highlights from yesterday:

  • Folks who’ve been jailed for breaching the MCO will not be registered as convicts. Violators will also not have their names entered into the police’s criminal records. We guess that’s fair, though we can’t help but feel certain fellows should really have the book thrown at them.
     
  • Economists are predicting that Bank Negara will cut its Overnight Policy Rate (OPR) to 2% today in an effort to prop up the economy. If this happens, it will be the third cut in a row – but could still not be enough to send Malaysia’s economy into its first deflation since 1969. In case you’re wondering how OPR affects you, here’s a handy primer
     
  • There’s more confusion about face masks. The Health D-G maintains they’re not compulsory but encouraged, while Transport Minister Wee Ka Siong says they’ll be mandatory for public transport users.
     
  • If you need more proof that Covid-19 and the MCO have hurt Malaysians where it hurts most i.e. their pockets, the snaking lines observed outside pawn shops in the country on Monday should confirm just how bad the situation is.
     
  • All foreign workers – except for domestic workers – will have to undergo mandatory Covid-19 tests, with employers footing the bill. Just one problem with this: there are people out there who bring in women as domestic workers but then get them to work at stalls and makan shops instead. So how?
     
  • Speaking of foreign workers, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Mustapa Mohamed says the government will soon have to reassess its reliance on foreign labour. Hmmm. Where have we heard that one before? That’s right, every time we face a crisis. If you have the time, this piece from a couple of years ago nicely captures the problem Malaysia faces with regard to foreign labour. TL;DR forget Covid-19, if all our migrant workers – legal and otherwise – go on strike, our economy will collapse.  

“There is a certain relief in change, even though it be from bad to worse! As I have often found in travelling in a stagecoach, that it is often a comfort to shift one’s position and be bruised in a new place.”

- Washington Irving -

IN INTERNATIONAL NEWS

  • Global Covid-19 infections have passed 3.5 million, while the death toll has crossed 250,000. However, growth rates in North America and Europe look to be slowing down. The question is: can we learn to live with the coronavirus if a vaccine is never developed? Speaking of vaccines, world leaders and organisations pledged $8 billion to research and develop treatments for the virus, but one country has refused to contribute. Here’s a clue as to who it is: it’s led by a big, orange dude with tiny hands.
     
  • Meanwhile, the US may have bigger problems than their popularity within the international community. Latest forecasts say the death toll there could surpass 134,000 – double of previous predictions. The country will also look to borrow a record $3 trillion (yes, TRILLION!) as Covid-related rescue packages bite into the country’s budget. 3 trillion. Damn.
     
  • Singapore has passed a bill allowing for special arrangements in the event the coronavirus threat persists when the country next heads to the polls. Singapore’s next general election must be held before April 14, 2021.
     
  • Japan has extended its lockdown to May 31. However, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe says a partial lifting by May 14 may be possible.
     
  • Long lines and jostling crowds outside liquor shops across India resulted in some states ordering stores shut soon after they opened on Monday. India’s ban on the sale of alcohol had been viewed as crucial to halting the spread of Covid-19 in the country. The ban, however, has deprived state governments of much-needed taxes.

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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