THE conditional movement control order in Sarawak was extended yet again on April 26, as the state continues to tackle the ongoing surge in Covid-19 infections.
With the latest extension, the conditional MCO will last until May 17, following a previous announcement last Saturday that it was to be extended from April 27 to May 10.
On Monday, the state disaster management committee approved and added extra measures to the Covid-19 standard operating procedure (SOP), as recommended by the divisional disaster management committees of Kuching, Miri, Sibu, Betong, Bintulu, Sarikei and Kapit for their respective administrative divisions.
Instead of enforcing a blanket MCO throughout Sarawak, the state government has decided to maintain the conditional MCO with its set guidelines while empowering
divisional authorities to fine-tune and add to the SOP in their jurisdictions.
At the same time, the enhanced MCO will be enforced in targeted high-risk areas while inter-district travel is even more tightly restricted.
It is understandable why the state would rather not reimpose the MCO as it would have an adverse impact on the economy.
In the words of Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Tun Openg, “Simply implementing MCO for Sarawak will burden industries and destroy the livelihoods of many.
“However, there is also a need for us to take drastic measures to cut the chain of infection given our limited healthcare resources and manpower reaching fatigue level, ” he had said.
With this in mind, Sarawak will continue to implement the enhanced MCO as this has been successful in containing the spread of Covid-19 in longhouses, neighbourhoods and workplaces.
Likewise, allowing divisional authorities to recommend SOP specific to their areas is a move towards tackling infections based on local situations, rather than taking a one-size-fits-all approach – even in districts categorised as Covid-19 red zones.
This makes sense because the Health Ministry’s classification of a red zone is any district with more than 40 cases reported over a two-week period.
And with some districts seeing a higher spike than others, red zones can have
anywhere from 40-odd cases to several hundred and even over a thousand, as in Kuching, Sibu and Bintulu this week.
As such, districts with more cases can recommend and impose stricter SOP during the conditional MCO to suit local conditions.
In Sibu, for example, only essential services are allowed to operate from 6am to 8pm while restaurants and eateries can only operate takeaway, drive-through or delivery services, with no dine-in allowed.
Non-essential services sectors in Sibu division, however, will be allowed to operate from May 3.
In Kuching, dine-in is allowed but only at 50% capacity or a maximum of 100 diners with adherence to physical distancing.
Meanwhile, the Bintulu divisional disaster management committee requires individuals entering or passing through Bintulu to present a negative Covid-19 swab test result upon arrival.
These measures are well-intentioned and need to be communicated clearly and effectively in order for the SOP to be followed.
The additional SOP is available on the websites of the National Security Council (www.mkn.gov.my) and state Local Government and Housing Ministry (mlgh.sarawak.gov.my).
However, the authorities should be more proactive in making them widely known to the public. It is not enough to say that the SOP can be accessed on the websites and leave the public to look it up themselves.
More can be done to spell out clearly what these additional guidelines are and why they are necessary, whether through official announcements, social media, engaging with community leaders or other means.
This should also include explaining what “essential services” mean, among other things, so that people are not left in the dark or confused about what is and isn’t allowed.
The next thing is to ensure that the SOP is duly, sensibly and fairly enforced, along with constant reminders on the importance of compliance in bringing down infections and keeping everyone safe, not least ourselves and our families.
People might have grown weary or complacent after more than a year of battling the pandemic, but any confusion over the SOP and its enforcement will not help.
Let’s make it worthwhile to adhere to the SOP.