The year of living dangerously

IT’S nearing the end of the year and I’ve just realised that the car wash in our office building has changed ownership four times since March.

This actually shouldn’t come as a surprise to me because the number of customers to this small car wash in our building’s basement has declined drastically in tandem with the number of people who have stopped coming to the office for work.

The plight of the car wash operator is a microcosm of what’s happening in the Klang Valley (and other parts of the country) at present. No customers means no business. The longer the conditional movement control order is in place, the more small businesses will suffer and more jobs will be lost. That is a fact.

No one is disputing that the Covid-19 figures are alarmingly high. But to put things in perspective, 800,000 Malaysians have lost their jobs since the pandemic hit our shores. Compare that with 300 Malaysians who have lost their lives coupled with a total of 0.14% of the population infected, and the sheer disparity emerges.

No matter how well meaning these restrictions are, the fact of the matter is that lockdowns affect livelihoods.

The latest data shows that more than 50,000 small and medium enterprises (SMEs) have folded since March when the movement control order was first implemented to stem the pandemic.

This number will increase under CMCO conditions even as Covid-positive cases are expected to decrease. The lockdown is working – to an extent that Health director-general Tan Sri Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah has said that the CMCO, scheduled until Dec 6, may be rescinded earlier if the red zones turn to green.

Dr Noor Hisham pointed out that the CMCO has reduced the Covid-19 infectivity rate in Malaysia, or the R0 or R-naught, from 2.2 on Sept 20 to below 1.0 on Tuesday.

While this is welcome news to the majority of businesses that are suffering, I would urge the authorities to relook the lockdown guidelines and strict standard operating procedures (SOPs). No one will argue with an enhanced MCO in targeted areas within red zones. But with Kuala Lumpur, for example, showing double-digit figures for the last one week, wouldn’t it make sense to remove the CMCO in our capital altogether?

No one is going to begrudge the authorities in their fight against Covid. This enemy is here to stay, but we need to put our heads together. To use a military term, is carpet bombing the solution? Should there be blanket CMCOs across states and districts? I would think the more effective approach to fighting Covid while ensuring the economy continues unabated are more targeted incisive attacks. The EMCO would be perfect for this.

The Ministry of Health has not revealed the science behind its risk assessment for the pandemic, so we do not know the rationale for the blanket CMCOs in the Klang Valley. The methodology used to extend the CMCO should be revealed because at the moment the data to support the current restrictions is tenuous at best.

There are different schools of thought in deciding on the best management of a pandemic. While countries like New Zealand, Taiwan, South Korea and even Singapore have had relative success combatting the coronavirus, developed countries like the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany and Australia are struggling. Indeed, these countries have seen a third wave of the pandemic with record number of cases and deaths.

Since March when the virus was first detected here, Malaysia has managed this health crisis relatively well. For this, the MoH and our frontliners should take the credit. The challenge for the government now is to continue to safeguard the welfare of the rakyat but at the same time not kill the livelihoods of millions of people.

The majority of Malaysians will be happy to see the back of 2020 even as we wind down the clock to this year. Tomorrow is Deepavali, but it will be a low-key celebration for many Hindus especially in the Klang Valley with the unscheduled water cuts.

Many people will not be able to afford a proper celebration and with the CMCO in place, those travelling to visit relatives in different districts will risk the mandatory RM1,000 fines.

Hari Raya has come and gone, Deepavali is next and around the corner will be Christmas. Don’t expect to be celebrating that either. More telling will be the fact that businesses have missed the boat during these celebrations for they are peak opportunities for sales.

It’s tiring because Covid-19 and the lockdown is taking a tremendous toll on the financial and mental health of Malaysians.

And yet, many of us remain optimistic for a better 2021. The news from the United States and China about vaccines that will be available by the end of the year is indeed welcome news.

Before the pandemic, we took many things for granted. Watching a football match in a stadium, taking your family for a Sunday drive, celebrating birthdays with relatives, hugging your family and friends, etc.

Post Covid-19, it will be the simple things in life – not wearing a mask, hanging out at the mamak and shaking a stranger’s hand – that we will appreciate the most.

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Brian Martin

Brian Martin

Brian Martin, executive editor of The Star, would like to come clean. He has vested interest in the proposed assessment rate hike since he’s a resident of Kuala Lumpur.


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