The Covid-19 pandemic has hit the state hard economically and socially, especially since the implementation of the movement control order (MCO) from March 18. For the first time, transport along the Johor Causeway has also been hampered since Singapore has also imposed its own version of MCO, known as “circuit breaker” until May 4. NELSON BENJAMIN and MOHD FARHAAN SHAH speak to Johor Mentri Besar Datuk Hasni Mohammad in an exclusive interview about the challenges and his hopes during this trying times.
Q: So far, we are into our fifth week of the MCO in the country, what is the Covid-19 situation in Johor? Are you satisfied with the implementation done by the agencies in the state so far?
A: Of course we can do better, as the non-compliance or compliance ratio during this MCO goes up and down regularly despite the various departments responsible for enforcement doing their best to ensure people stay at home. We need the cooperation of everybody to ensure we are able to stop the chain of spreading this virus. I am aware that everyone is doing their part but we cannot be complacent when dealing with this pandemic. However, I am also happy that the people within an area in Simpang Renggam, which is under the enhanced MCO, have been adhering to the advice from the authorities while their welfare is being taken care of. Another thing that needs urgent attention is for us to have more laboratories to do testing as the present four is not sufficient. Presently, we have four laboratories here doing Covid-19 testing and it takes about four to five days for the results. Ideally, we should be able to get the results within 24 hours. We are doing about 600 to 700 tests daily.
Q: A special committee was formed to handle border issues with Singapore during the MCO. How is it functioning so far? What are the issues that have been resolved thus far?
A: Since we implemented the MCO, there have been border control issues with Singapore and also those coming in from Indonesia via the ferry terminals. So far, with help from our Foreign Ministry we have been able to send across our message, especially requesting Singapore to cooperate by giving our Malaysians working there an opportunity to undergo test for Covid-19 before coming back. However, this has yet to be decided because the medical centres and institutions in Singapore refuse to conduct any test or screening if the person does not have symptoms. As such, they (Malaysians) cannot get some kind of health certificate from Singapore before they enter Johor. We anticipate a huge number coming back from Singapore but right now it is not happening so we are still able to cope with the daily numbers. Those with medical certification from Singapore, who test negative for the virus, can go home or self quarantine, but those who do not have a certificate, whether they are positive or negative, they will have to go straight to a quarantine centre. That is our present standard operating procedure (SOP). Presently, there are still about 40,000 Malaysians still in Singapore who have yet to return. So far, all the goods travelling between Malaysia and Singapore, whether essential or non-essential, have been moving smoothly. Singapore has also agreed to provide housing for our workers during their lockdown and certain industries and factory have already been making an effort to continue to provide housing. These are come of the issues that the committee has managed to resolve or discuss.
Q: How can the state help the welfare of thousands of Malaysians whose livelihood has been affected by the MCO in both Malaysia and Singapore? There are reports that many who chose to stay back in Johor during the first MCO could lose their jobs in Singapore. Are you planning to have a hotline for people to call for food assistance in each district?
A: Well, it is not Singapore’s problem if Malaysians lose their jobs, but I am sure they have to do it due to economic reasons. As such, we have to be prepared for the possibility of higher unemployment in the state. So far, the government has announced some stimulus packages for the people. I hope all this will help cushion the impact on our people. My focus now is to make sure every family in the state has basic essentials, especially food for themselves and their families during this MCO period. We have set up a welfare hotline known as Pusat Maklumat Ehsan Johor to assist those who are suffering or have lost their jobs, especially with cash handouts or essentials. Besides locals, we are also coordinating our efforts with foreign embassies as we have many foreign workers in the state who require help.
Q: Initially, there were complaints with regards to our quarantine centres statewide. Dirty, not up to mark and staff not following SOP. How are you addressing these issues?
A: We have gazetted many places as quarantine centres including hotels. So far, we have more than 1,200 people at these centres statewide. However, we are doing our best to ensure everything is running well. I just hope people can be patient and cooperate with us, especially our frontliners when they return to Malaysia at our borders. We also welcome more hotels to sign up as quarantine centres as they are helpful, as we do not have to think about security, food arrangement and cleaning the facilities.
Q: Pakatan Harapan leaders are saying that the state government is playing politics during this pandemic especially with the disbursement of aid to people within their constituencies. The list of food recipients provided by Pakatan MPs are not being followed. Is this true and how are you going to address it?
A: All I can say is that we should put aside our political affiliations and work as a team to make sure that all food or basic supplies and assistance provided reaches those in need. There is no such thing as aid being given to a Barisan Nasional area while an opposition area is ignored. We should work as a team to get through this pandemic and help the people. Now is not the time to play politics.
Q: What about the RM20,000 allocation for each of the 56 assemblymen in Johor regardless of their political affiliation? Has it been handed out and are there plans to increase the amount? What are they spending the money on? What are you using your allocation for?
A: This allocation has been distributed to all assemblymen regardless of whether they are with the government or opposition. I am sure that every assemblymen would have spent more than the RM20,000 allocated. I believe that during this crisis, everyone has a role to play to look after their constituents. In my area Benut, part of the allocation went to food items and cash handouts to the poor. I believe that we have a system in place and if need be, we can look at increasing this allocation further. The most important thing now is to help those who require assistance.
Q: The state has requested for help during this MCO and many private companies and groups have come forward to donate. How has the money been used and what else is needed?
A: We are thankful and touched by the generosity of those who have come forward to help. Not just in terms of cash and equipment but those who have also helped prepare items including food and other items, especially for our frontliners. Malaysians are a creative and caring lot especially during a crisis. At the moment, we hope to further equip our hospitals in Johor Baru and Kluang, which were involved in treating patients with Covid-19. We need more ventilators and qualified medical professionals. So far, we have spent about RM5mil to cover the basic needs of our frontliners and others.