Is it time for a #DIYMCO?


We don’t need to wait for the government to implement restrictions: companies, organisations, and individuals should self-restrict immediately in a ‘do it yourself’ MCO.

A TOTAL of 691 cases in one day, and 2,936 active cases – both record highs for Malaysia, making it our worst Covid-19 day ... so far.

I think there are enough people currently expressing their anger and frustration at our nation’s leadership with regards to their role in exacerbating this crisis – especially with regards to the recent Sabah state elections.

I completely understand how these critics feel, and they have plenty of reasons to be angry.

A theme I’ve come back to again and again in my writing, however, is how we should stop relying on politicians or waiting for them to solve our problems.

In that vein, the question I wanted to look into today was: how can we do our part, independent of the government and despite the bumbling antics of our politicians, to help flatten the Covid-19 curve once again?

I must make the caveat that I am not an epidemiologist, a doctor, or any kind of public health expert. The following are merely some thoughts by a concerned citizen, who is open to being corrected and hoping to start a useful conversation.

The primary focus here is what we can do ourselves, right here, right now, without having to rely on anyone.

One of the few lessons that has been drilled into me from online gaming (an otherwise rather time-consuming hobby), is that you ultimately can’t control the behaviour of your teammates – or anyone else other than yourself, really.

But we can control our own lives, and try to influence the lives of those around us – our families, our colleagues, and our friends.

On March 15,2020, the day before the first movement control order (MCO) was announced, Malaysia had 190 new cases. Yesterday (Oct 6), we had 691 new cases.

On at least one level, it should stand to reason that if the case numbers are considerably higher now than when we first implemented the MCO, how can it be logical that we implemented a full MCO then but not now?

I’m not sure I buy the Prime Minister’s argument that implementing an MCO would lead to societal and economic collapse, especially seeing that a failure to contain the pandemic will also lead to societal and economic collapse – alongside any number of deaths.

In any case, since the government is failing to take more substantive measures, the question we should ask ourselves is: what measures can we take on our own?

The “good news” here is that having already been through a period of MCO, we are now more experienced in ways of living this “new normal” – working from home, minimising excursions, and so on.

Basically, we know it can be done, and we know how to do it. The only difference is, now we need to do it without having the government lead enforcement.

If we as a nation want to take the wise path, we should not wait for a “big brother” government to stop dragging its feet and institute restrictions. If it does not implement restrictions, it falls to us to restrict ourselves.

In practical terms, there are a number of things we can do.

Any and all private companies whose nature of work allows its employees to work from home to any degree should immediately institute a complete work from home policy except for truly dire and urgent cases in essential industries.

I know as much as anyone that an in-person meeting is better than a Zoom one, and that employees in an office are sometimes (though far, far from always) more productive than employees at home.

That said, what we are discussing here in the private sector truly boils down to levels of productivity, and thus levels of profit.

Will industry leaders and heads of companies truly stoop down to put company profits above the health of not only their employees, but the health of the nation at large, in a time of such dire crisis?

At the very least, until we flatten the curve considerably as we did before, should we not take the initiative to do our part, even if it means reducing profits and taking on some short-term losses?

No one is asking for a complete shutdown of the economy. But at the very, very least, all companies that can function at even 50% (or less perhaps) of capacity with their employees working from home, should immediately institute this policy, without having to wait for government directives.

If we are to give some leeway, let us try to afford that leeway to the most vulnerable segments of our society – the people who have little to no savings, and who would be in extremely dire straits if say, they were unable to open their food stall.

And then there are social and personal decisions and practices.

To be fair, I personally expected an explosion in the number of cases (such as we are seeing now) much earlier, when we seem to go from zero to hundred in the blink of an eye at the time the MCO was lifted almost completely around June 10.

I thought that without a staggered reopening of the country, we would see a massive uptick in cases.

That did not happen. A few months later, however, with the Sabah elections looking like a major factor, a massive uptick is exactly what we are seeing.

Personal observations and anecdotal evidence show that we shouldn’t be surprised. For weeks and months now, Malaysia has looked, to me at least, like it has gone back to “normal” and taken on an extremely lax attitude towards the pandemic.

The malls, trains, and gyms appear to be almost as full as they once were, and it seems like we have come to think of wearing a mask (which isn’t to say that everyone has been wearing one properly) as a one-stop solution that will magically make everything okay.

Masks are vital, but they aren’t meant to replace frequent washing of hands, proper social distancing, and most importantly, actually avoiding crowds as much as humanly possible.

Without practising these steps, it was essentially only a matter of time (a time obviously shortened by the irresponsible actions of a few), before we saw this second wave.

Coming back to practical steps: even if the government is being slow to ban mass gatherings, this should not stop us from cancelling mass gatherings and attendance thereof on our own.

It’s hard to determine what exactly a mass gathering is, but we could say for example that any event or place where more than say a hundred people are present should essentially trigger in our own heads at least a red alert that says: stay away!

Unless lives or some truly, truly vital interests are at stake, then it is incumbent on us as individuals to avoid any gathering or crowds, and respectfully (but strongly) encourage everyone we know to do the same.

Private schools and educational institutions that do not have to rely on government directives about whether to close or to remain open should immediately revert to online teaching and such, at least for the near future.

A good example of private organisations taking their own initiative was the decision by the Catholic church to immediately cancel all masses.

While this move will certainly be a sad one for many of the faithful, this was a sacrifice made by the church for the greater good of the nation.

More organisations – commercial, religious, social, and so on – should follow suit. Let’s not forget that we are not facing a binary choice between total lockdown and total freedom; there are many gradations in between, and it is incumbent upon us to make the right sacrifices for the greater good.

The government will do whatever it does, for whatever reasons it has.

We all hope for strong leadership, but when that does not always materialise, we as a nation must stand ready to lead ourselves.

Today that means instituting work from home policies, cancelling mass gatherings, and staying at home as much as humanly possible.

No doubt, there will be sacrifices, and meddlesome inconveniences, but we really must keep the bigger picture in mind here.

Be strong, take courage, and step by step, we’ll get through this together.

NATHANIEL TAN is a strategic communications consultant. He can be reached at nat@engage.my.

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