It’s a shutdown, not a holiday

Street lights illuminate an empty highway in Jalan Bulatan Kampung Pandan in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, on Wednesday, March 18, 2020. Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin said late Monday that the country will be limiting non-essential businesses operations as well as banning all visitors from entering the country and residents from traveling overseas from March 18 for two weeks. -Bloomberg

MANY Malaysians don’t seem to get it. We are to stay at home, period. Instead, the movement control order has led to many of us hitting the highways to balik kampung.

Some of us have gone on “Cuti Cuti Malaysia” and joined the large crowds at tourist spots, at least, until last week.

The worst is the large number of Malaysians who still eat at restaurants and food courts that are flouting the law by remaining open and allowing dine-ins.

I woke up to find pictures that have gone viral showing scenes of people in Sarawak having breakfast at eateries.

Then there was a picture of a large number of people at a Penang food court waiting for their food to be packed. It did not show these Penangites eating, but the number of people sitting and chilling out defeats the purpose of the government’s decision.

In most of the places, it involves older people, who are most at risk.

Malaysians are taking this order too lightly despite the number of Covid-19 confirmed cases shooting up dramatically and the first two deaths reported.

We now have the highest number of cases in South-East Asia, yet some of us are taking it lightly, and even indifferently.

Beyond reading the daily news and talking about it, our actions and health practices, especially the constant washing of hands, are still not being practised by many.

There were over 16,000 people including 1,500 foreigners at the tabligh gathering at the Sri Petaling mosque, with the health authorities now fighting against the clock to trace those who had attended.

A 34-year-old Malaysian man who attended the event died on Tuesday, Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr Adham Baba announced, the first death linked to the Feb 27-March 1 event.

Out of Malaysia’s 673 confirmed coronavirus cases, nearly two-thirds are reportedly linked to the four-day meeting, Dr Adham said.

The reality is that it will be difficult to trace all the participants because of the mobility of people, and it doesn’t help that over 1,000 people would have since left Malaysia.

It’s a time bomb. They may not even know that they have already caught the virus and would have passed the killer bug to fellow travellers and their family members.

No one can tell how many of these participants had been infected and are, in turn, spreading the virus.

A Christian pastor from Sarawak has also died from Covid-19, making the two the first Malaysian fatalities.

While he has a history of diabetes and hypertension, it is not known where the first point of contact was.

It cannot be verified if it was from a gathering such as a church event or a wedding but certainly efforts have been made to screen those he had contact with.

Malaysians need to stay home – the current restricted movement is just for two weeks, which is the incubation period of the virus and to enable the authorities to trace those who have been infected.

The message must be driven to everyone, and that includes royalty and ministers.

If you have no business or requirement to visit hospitals or crisis centres, just stay at home.

That’s the whole point. This is not the time for publicity.

And there is absolutely no reason to get your wantan mee, mee goreng or chicken rice from the shops. You can have all that you have missed in a fortnight. Use delivery services if you need food.

The government has been extremely lenient by not imposing a lockdown. It does not even want to use the term but instead calls it a movement control order.

But unfortunately, we are dealing with Malaysians, who refuse to accept that we have to minimise the spread of the virus. If the numbers do not subside by the last few days of the two weeks, we should brace ourselves for the long haul and tougher action, as is seen in other countries.

It could lead to a total shutdown or even curfew if the situation does not improve, and the economic losses would be even greater.

If that’s not enough, the annual Cheng Beng Festival, or the Chinese All Souls Day, of tomb sweeping will take place around April 4-6, with crowded praying activities at cemeteries and temple premises.

It involves a lot of travelling, and another round of balik kampung, but the reality is that such activities this year have to be postponed, and Malaysians have no choice but to resort to praying at home. There is no other way.

Again, we cannot allow religious bodies to decide – the Federal Government has to put its foot down, with the support of the Taoist and Chinese leaders.

Filial piety is important but it is more important to express and demonstrate it when these old folks are still alive, and not after they have passed away.

So, Malaysians, please take this first 14 days very seriously. Yes, this is a matter of life and death – literally. This is not a holiday but a shutdown.

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