Covid-19: Will Malaysia extend the MCO?

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#OPINION

Malaysia is into its third week of the movement control order (MCO) and there are already whispers and hopes that the order will be revoked come April 14, four weeks after its implementation due to the novel corona virus (Covid-19) outbreak.
But lets not kid ourselves.

The number of positive Covid-19 cases reported per day do not indicate the level of confidence that the crisis is all over and fine here.

While we all remain hopeful that the curve will rapidly flatten, good sense must prevail in making the decision to lift the MCO. The relevant authorities in the government should not succumb to any political, social or religious pressure in opening the floodgates too soon.

The health ministry and specifically the prime minister, as the captain of the ship must make it loud, clear, crisp and precise to all that flattening the curve or the rate of infection is just the early phase of addressing and arresting the problem at hand.

There must be a significant downtrend or decline in cases upon flattening the curve in order to rethink the entire MCO. As said by the health director general, flattening the curve does not mean
zero cases reported.

The most difficult question is when will be the most appropriate time to lift the MCO? And how to go about it with the assurance that there will be no rebounds in the immediate weeks and months to come?

There is fear that a premature removal of the MCO may land us all with a false perception that there is no more threat of continued infections.

Malaysians by large are extremely forgetful people and do not really learn their lessons well. History has shown how sloppy they can be. Just look at the accident rates and carelessness they exhibit on the road despite the thousands of accidents and road deaths happening annually.

This is just one example among the heap. No amount of trauma in the past has improved the thinking process regardless of their formal education background.

Likewise I am confident that the moment the MCO is lifted, the majority of Malaysians will by droves mobilise themselves into crowded areas like shopping malls, public transports systems and every other market one can think of.

Above that with the festival season of Hari Raya just around the corner, the shopping spree is a must for almost all Malaysians, far more with the expected bargains and mega sales that will come along as many retailers would want to catch up on their lost sales during the MCO.

While the government agencies may have good control and quarantine measures over the entry and exit points of the country, one wonders how will they control the movement domestically immediately after the MCO.

We cannot afford to have another round of MCO if the first one fails to contain the spread. In other words, there is no room for mistakes to be made in assuring the public that the crisis has been handled to the highest level of confidence.

Thus what has the government planned to ensure there are no more clusters harbouring the virus and that it has traced the last man standing with the infection?

No doubt it will be a tough call to be made. But nonetheless a decision must be made. Having said that it may be timely that the government make an announcement the soonest possible if the MCO will be extended further and not wait till the very last moment to do so.

April 14 ain’t too far way. If the MCO is to be removed then what are the controls and check points that we can expect on the ground beginning the very next day?

Will supermarkets and places that could draw crowds be allowed to bounce back in the
anticipation that there are no more Covid-19 infected suspects mingling among them?
Or will it be done in phases according to zones. And who or which party will be given priority if the MCO is revoked in phases?

The government need not mollycoddle the public and at the same time be politically obliging.

Be assertive from day one if we do not want to walk into another viral inferno. We have seen the negative consequences of how leaders of some nations were more engrossed in making politically right decisions but medically and morally wrong from the word ‘go’.

Face the harsh realities and don’t beat around the bush. Be forthcoming and transparent. It will eventually go a long way on many fronts.

By: Narinder Pal

Narinder is a veteran political observer and practicing pharmacist