Makcik Pia and the new MCO2 crowds

Restricting movements sometimes creates more crowding, and greater risk of infection. Is that what we want?

WHEN Makcik Pia (not to be confused with her famous distant cousin, Makcik Kiah) wakes up on March 31, the sun is already high in the sky. It’s 7am, and Makcik Pia has only slept for five hours.

Makcik Pia walks down to the local mamak shop to buy breakfast for her daughter and son who always wake up hungry around this time.

She buys two roti telur today. The kids like roti telur.

Makcik Pia is tired, but she spends the morning cleaning the house because there is no one else to do it. At 9am, she takes a short nap.

At 9.30am, she puts on her nurse’s uniform and starts getting ready for work.

At 10am, the nanny that is subsidised for frontliners by a local NGO arrives. They exchange pleasantries before Makcik Pia has to leave.

Makcik Pia lives in Perumahan Pantai Permai apartments, in the red zone of Lembah Pantai in Kuala Lumpur. The many police and heavily armed military personnel sometimes stop her along her 26 minute walk to Universiti LRT station to ask where she’s going, despite her uniform.

At 10.30am, she’s proud to see that the few people at the LRT station who are still taking public transport are mostly doing their best to practice social distancing. The crowds aren’t too bad.

She rides the train (six stops) to Masjid Jamek, and then takes a bus (KL 117 BSN Lebuh Ampang) to Hospital Kuala Lumpur (12 stops).

Makcik Pia arrives at the hospital a little before 11am. She takes a deep breath. She starts her shift.

Eleven exhausting, excruciating hours on the frontline against Covid-19 later, Makcik Pia finally feels she can leave. It’s 10pm. She hasn’t had dinner.

She walks to the bus stop, takes a bus to the train station, and takes the train home. It’s late, so the train isn’t too crowded.

She reaches the Universiti LRT station. Her back hurts a little. Tonight, instead of walking, she splurges on a Grab ride home from the station instead.

She arrives back at her apartment complex around 10.45pm and stops by the minimarket, the only time in the day she can manage to get groceries. There aren’t many people in the shop.

She reaches home around 11pm. She’s a little too tired to cook, so she orders some McDonalds via Foodpanda for dinner. The children are asleep, the nanny is tired and happy to begin her own journey home by train. They exchange pleasant goodbyes.

The McDonalds arrives. She eats – tired, alone, but at least able to enjoy some hot food.

Just as she prepares for bed, a text message comes in containing the new rules for phase two of the movement control order (MCO). Makcik Pia doesn’t sleep well. Her life is about to change.

The next day, April 1, she wakes up at 7am again.

The mamak is closed because they are now only allowed to open at 8am. Her children are hungry for an extra hour.

Makcik Pia rushes through the house cleaning, with no nap. At 8.30am, an hour earlier than usual, she puts on her nurse’s uniform. The house isn’t fully clean.

Makcik Pia has to leave at 9am, before the nanny arrives. She prays the kids will be safe until then.

Makcik Pia arrives at the train station at 9.30am. She notices that it is a lot more crowded than usual.

She recognises the people who are usually there at 10.30am – they are now all there at 9.30am because public transport now stops at 10am before running again from 5pm to 10pm.

It is more crowded than usual, people are grumpy at having to arrive earlier, and tensions seem high. It’s crowded.

She rides the train (six stops) to Masjid Jamek, and then takes a bus (KL 117 BSN Lebuh Ampang) to Hospital Kuala Lumpur (12 stops). The bus is the last one of the morning, and it is crowded. Someone sneezes.

Makcik Pia arrives at the hospital a little before 10am. She is an hour early. She wishes she could have spent this time with her children instead. She takes a deep breath. She starts her shift.

Eleven exhausting, excruciating hours on the frontline against Covid-19 later, it’s 9pm. Makcik Pia wants to stay and help a little longer but public transport now stops at 10pm. She hasn’t had dinner.

Makcik Pia runs to the bus stop. She arrives at the bus station at 9.30pm, breathless. She catches the last train. It’s more crowded than usual, filled with people who would usually take the train later in the night. People are grumpy, and irritable. It’s crowded. Someone sneezes.

Makcik Pia arrives at Universiti LRT station. It’s 10.15pm. There’s another half-hour walk ahead before she reaches home. She’s exhausted and wants to call a Grab, but they aren’t allowed to operate past 10pm any more. She starts her half-hour walk home.

She walks with her friend Letchumy, who shares news concerning Aunty Lim, their elderly neighbour. For the first few days of the MCO, an NGO had provided two meals a day to Aunty Lim. But now that NGOs are no longer allowed to deliver food without “proper authorisation”, Aunty Lim is only getting one meal a day, and sometimes none at all.

The NGO has tried to follow proper procedures but keeps getting conflicting information from the news, the police and the welfare department. Some NGOs have even had to throw food away while waiting for clearer instructions that still haven’t arrived.

Makcik Pia reaches her apartment at 10.45pm. She stops by the minimart to get a few groceries for Aunty Lim only to realise the mini-mart has been closed since 8pm. New rules.

Makcik Pia’s stomach rumbles a little. She takes out her phone to order McDonalds – only to remember that food delivery services are also no longer allowed to operate past 8pm.

Her nephew Din is a Grab Food rider. He is complaining in the family WhatsApp group that shorter operating hours mean less income for him, while more and more customers aren’t able to order their food due to a shortage of riders and earlier restaurant closures.

Indeed, the family WhatsApp group has been going crazy all day. Din’s mother was talking about how supermarkets were now being forced to close at 8pm resulting in even bigger crowds and more panic buying by richer folk.

Makcik Pia is reminded of the crowded trains and the people who sneezed, and worries that the virus is now going to spread even faster through all these new crowds.

Din’s father jokes that they should rename the MCO to CCO – Crowd Control Order – so the authorities wouldn’t get their priorities mixed up.

Makcik Pia reaches her home at 11pm, tired, with no food on the way. She finds her son has been crying. He couldn’t sleep because he was a little hungry but the nanny had to leave two and a half hours ago at 9.30pm to catch the last train home.

Makcik Pia makes her son a sandwich from the groceries she bought yesterday. She should have bought more but she didn’t want to worsen the panic buying. There isn’t much other food for herself, but at least her son feels better.

Her son falls asleep at 11.30pm. Although hungry, Makcik Pia has to finish the house cleaning she wasn’t able to get done in the morning.

It’s 1am when Makcik Pia is finally able to get to bed. She won’t be able to take her nap in the morning. Breakfast for the children at 8am, train at 9am. The crowded train. The crowded bus. The tired nurse.

NATHANIEL TAN is a strategic communications strategist. He is also involved with Projek Wawasan Rakyat (POWR) and can be reached at This article is (obviously) a work of fiction.

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