Contradictheory: Partying in the red

Police detained 42 people for partying like there's no Covid-19 (ie, defying the movement control order) at a rented bungalow in Penang in October 2020. — Photo provided

’Tis the new year, and for many it is a time for partying. Just ask Brazilian footballer Neymar. He was allegedly planning to throw a week-long party in his mansion in Brazil for 500 people. I say “allegedly” because he later clarified that it was for only 150 people. After all, you have to be careful now that Covid-19 is around.

If the words “entitled” and “p***k” are passing through your mind right now, don’t think that Malaysians are necessarily immune to this (including perhaps you yourself, good reader). Risky behaviour is an ailment any of us can be infected with.

Take for example a rumour that had been circulating recently that a Covid-19 cluster had emerged after a family held a birthday party at home with numerous guests and people were infected by one of the caterers. If that were true, it would have indeed been irresponsible. But one of the relatives involved made a post on Facebook to deny the allegation.

There was no crowded house party, with infectious waiters. Rather, there had been a lunch at a restaurant with extended family to celebrate the birthday. And then there was another outing in the evening with other family members for another meal. And then there was a relative who had visited the house with durians. But there was no irresponsible crowded house party.

Instead, she and some relatives had visited her father-in-law for lunch. Then, later that evening, he had gone out for dinner with a different set of relatives. And then, after that, they had gone home to greet yet another group of relatives who had brought durians for dessert. A few days after that, one relative was found to be Covid-19 positive, and after testing “almost 100” people, in total eight people were identified to also be positive.

What befuddles me is that although the poster agreed that a large birthday party (which they did not have) would have been irresponsible, having three groups of relatives visiting (presumably an elder) relative in a single day (including going out to a restaurant) was perfectly fine.

She wrote, “These were our parents. Older folk who have kept up with all SOPs and rarely dined out accept (sic) on special occasions”. Well, Covid-19 itself creates circumstances that are also “special”, and if you are in a red zone, then perhaps celebrating a birthday in person should also be considered “non-essential”.

But the more worrying point is the subtext that meeting up like this is perhaps OK because other people are doing it as well. “Today, most youngsters are back to work, still visiting malls, eating out and having gatherings with friends, ” she also wrote. Truth is, we shouldn’t be doing that when the risk is so high.

Exactly how high is the risk? I could spend the next paragraphs outlining how one could calculate risk. Or I could guide you to an online calculator such as the one found at The website is based on data from the United States but I think you can use it as a guide to find out how the risk of getting infected changes depending on whether you wash your hands or wear a face mask – or how many people you meet up with in a week.

I could explain all this to show you that what makes this risk really grow is that number of people you are in “close contact” with, even if you are careful with your hand-washing. And the truth is that if you’re spending more than 15 minutes with a person in a meeting, or more certainly during a meal, then you are not wearing a face mask and the risk is suddenly very high.

And then I could give you a number, expressed as a probability of infection, and couple that with the probability of mortality, or long-term health issues. And you know what? I can’t be bothered. Really, people don’t listen. People don’t want to understand or they don’t want to know. People you love and care for pretty much do whatever they want to do.

This really is a shame because we’ve learned a lot about Covid-19 since March 2020.

In particular, we understand under what conditions the virus spreads easily. I’m sure you can recite the three Ws: Wear a mask, Wash your hands, and Watch your distance. And just as importantly, there are the three Cs: Avoid Crowded places, Close-contact, and Confined spaces. It’s not an “either or”, it’s an “and”.

If these instructions are so simple that even a child can understand them (Upin and Ipin now diligently wear their face masks in the latest episodes of the popular cartoon), then why do adults find it so hard to avoid getting together for lunches, dinners, and parties?

The number of cases has risen dramatically in the last few months, despite most of the Klang Valley being under a conditional movement control order and lately declared a red zone. People are not being careful. People are taking unnecessary risks. People are dying.

From Sept 1, 2020, until this week, early in January 2021, we’ve seen total infected cases rise 10 times, from less than 10,000 to more than a 100,000. Deaths have risen from 128 to 471, as at Dec 31, 2020. Health director-general Tan Sri Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah has said that there are now logistics issues in ferrying patients to hospitals, and is advising active Covid-19 cases to self-isolate at home. (Previously, they would have been taken to the hospital.)

Will that stop Malaysians from going out and meeting friends for meals or perhaps just dropping by for a new year’s party? We know what the answer should be, and unfortunately we know what it probably isn’t.

Perhaps I am myopic and too Klang Valley-focused. A relative in green zone Sarawak said that she is shocked at how casually KL-ites are ignoring SOPs based on what she sees in social media photos. The irony is, of course, she could probably do the same in a green zone and be relatively safe. Or perhaps, places where people party responsibly are ones that end up (and deserve to be) green.

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 , lockdowns


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