Contradictheory: Malaysia falling short with pandemic plans

Yes, yes, Liverpool played badly to let in so many goals – but Aston Villa planned for their success! Malaysia could do with having a plan and, most importantly, executing it well in its response to the Covid-19 pandemic. — Reuters

English football club Liverpool lost to Aston Villa 7-2 in a Premier League match on Oct 5,2020. That is not a cricket score. That is the first time a reigning top league English champion has let in seven goals – ever. It’s very probably a once in a lifetime event, and Villa supporters lamented that it happened in an empty stadium due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

It was clear in the interviews with Aston Villa coach Dean Smith and the players that they had planned to exploit a weakness in Liverpool’s defence: they are so forward at attacking, they leave a lot of space to exploit at the back. This was communicated to the Villa players, who then practised it all week before the game to understand it. Finally, on the night itself, they executed it almost to perfection.

The win was no accident.

So when the pundits after the game spent all their time talking about how badly Liverpool played, with nary a “well done” to the team that thrashed them... I was naturally annoyed. And I also thought, sometimes it’s worth writing about the obvious.

So I will say this here: Aston Villa played well and deserved their victory. Also this: Covid-19 is a dangerous and deadly disease that deserves caution and respect.

I mean, we know this. We are currently under a conditional movement control order (MCO) in the Klang Valley. Worldwide, there has been more than 40 million Covid-19 cases, resulting in over a million deaths. Things are bad.

But not for all. While Villa Park was empty, last Sunday (Oct 11,2020) in New Zealand, 30,000 people thronged a rugby stadium to watch the famous All Blacks play Australia. It was in sharp contrast to how most sport is being played in the rest of the world (if you can even play them in the first place).

That kind of carefree spirit was actually felt in Malaysia for a short while. Specifically, August 2020 was relatively quiet, people went back to work, and although the economy was forecasted to shrink by 3%, the assumption was that we would improve and sharply rise in 2021.

Well, we might not be able to make that assumption now.

Ironically, in August, New Zealand was implementing a conditional MCO of its own. More specifically, Auckland was at Alert Level 3 between Aug 12 and 30 (the second highest level of lockdown there), which was then downgraded to Alert Level 2 for most of September.

Alert Level 3 in New Zealand is not very different from a conditional MCO here. The only difference is that New Zealand allowed schools to remain open, with the recommendation that “children should learn at home if possible”.

New Zealand’s economy has taken a hit too, and is expected to contract by 5.6% this year. Yet, why is there a feeling that New Zealand has got a better handle on this pandemic than Malaysia, if it looks like we’re doing the same thing to fight the virus?

Because we’re not doing the same thing. In the 14 days between Sept 29 and Oct 12, there were 513 locally transmitted Covid-19 cases in Kuala Lumpur and Selangor. A tweet by senior consultant paediatrician Dr Amar Singh-HSS highlighted that for the week of Oct 6-12, there were between 10 and 30 cases per day in KL, Putrajaya and Selangor that were “unlinked” (ie not related to an existing cluster). The conditional MCO was announced on Oct 12.

Meanwhile, New Zealand imposed an Alert Level 3 lockdown in Auckland the day after finding four cases of Covid-19 from an unknown source.

Clearly the New Zealand government has a plan of what to do when infections flare up. There’s a website that lists on a single page what the current alert level is and where it is imposed along with a summary of what is allowed and not allowed at that level. The page also explains what justifies a particular level being imposed.

I think this is where Malaysia falls short. I am pretty confident we have a plan of what to do, depending on the number of infections. But that plan is shrouded in a bit of mystery over what exactly will be done and what will trigger it. This is despite the Health Ministry having relatively transparent media briefings – I think part of the problem is that it’s not the Health Ministry that has the final say on certain policies.

One newspaper ran an article with the headline “Businesses perplexed by CMCO regulations”, with interviewees saying things like, “I’m trying hard to make sense of the announcement”.

On social media there were conversations about what a “daerah” (district) is, and when is written permission needed?

Fortunately, much was clarified in the days after the announcement, but that’s akin to a football manager shouting instructions onto the field of play because he failed to make it clear in the weeks prior to the game.

Even then, there are still inconsistencies. My friend took the trouble to get a letter to travel to Negri Sembilan for work but he said he encountered no roadblocks along the way (at that time). On Thursday (Oct 15,2020) morning, people in my neighbourhood reported they could travel to work from Petaling Jaya to KL without any checks or blocks whatsoever. Are we executing the plan as intended?

Bill Shankly, Liverpool’s much beloved former manager, once reportedly said, “Some people believe football is a matter of life and death, and I am very disappointed with that attitude. I can assure you it is much, much more important than that.” I’m not sure what he would have made of Liverpool’s game against Villa.

But I think you don’t have to be a football fan to agree that Covid-19 is a matter of life and death – and a lot more besides that. So shouldn’t we take it at least as seriously?

In his fortnightly column, Contradictheory, mathematician-turned-scriptwriter Dzof Azmi explores the theory that logic is the antithesis of emotion but people need both to make sense of life’s vagaries and contradictions. Write to Dzof at The views expressed here are entirely the writer's own.

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Covid-19 , MCO , lockdown


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