THE inconsistencies are maddening.
First Klang Valley public parks are closed, then the Federal Territories Ministry says that Kuala Lumpur parks can open. Over in Selangor, the state government allowed each individual local authority to decide if they should open parks under their jurisdiction.
This flip-flopping does not end here. Predictably, none of the local councils in Selangor chose to open their parks, but a check in Petaling Jaya shows that people are using Taman Jaya, one of Petaling Jaya’s most popular parks, without hindrance.
And those living in Kuala Lumpur where parks are supposed to be open, find the “door” shut at Bukit Kiara, one of the most popular city parks. No wonder, people are fed up with the inconsistent decision-making by the authorities.
The movement control order in the Klang Valley, in place from Jan 13-26, is primarily a lockdown to ensure that people stay home with limited movement. But when making the announcement, the Prime Minister acknowledged that Malaysians needed to exercise in the fresh air. He made allowances for no more than two people from the same household to be allowed out walking or jogging.
This then was the rationale for KL City Hall to open its parks with the same proviso that only two people from the same family were allowed into the park. However, there are restrictions on group gatherings as well as picnics in its parks.
Research shows that feelings of helplessness, loneliness and fear of being socially excluded, stigmatised or separated from loved ones are common in any epidemic, while prolonged stress, boredom and social isolation, as well as a lack of outdoor activity, can lead to a higher number of mental health conditions, such as anxiety and even depression.
With our Covid-19 positive daily cases still in the 3,000-4,000 range, the government has extended the MCO period to Feb 4 and it may even go beyond Chinese New Year. Our R-nought infectivity rate (the average number of people each infected person passes the virus on to) is still hovering at a dangerous 1.1 level and this needs to be brought down for the Health Ministry to recommend a lifting of the MCO restrictions.
Hence, it is important that the authorities allow people to access open outdoor spaces. I do not recollect anyone infected by the virus from a park visit. As long as standard operating procedure is adhered to, a 15 to 30-minute walk or jog in the park would be a tremendous mood booster for many of us stuck in the middle of this lockdown.
An eminent psychologist/trauma specialist I spoke to, Dr Anjhula Mya Singh Bais, acknowledged that it was difficult for the government to balance restrictions to contain and curb the pandemic with allowances to open up economic sectors as well as for recreational activities.
“Of course nature is very beneficial for mental health. In fact in Scotland, the National Health Service actually prescribes going for a walk in the outdoors as being beneficial to one’s mental well-being.
“However, in terms of compliance with SOP, we are extremely poor. For example, we need to put collective pressure on each other to wear face masks properly because we are so relaxed about that, ” she said.
Dr Anjhula, who is also part of the World Economic Forum and World Health Organisation’s Covid-19 Task Force Mobilisation, said that though she empathised with people who are deprived of access to parks and nature, that should not stop people from exercising in their own homes.
As for me, I’m embarrassed to admit this, but I finally paid a visit to Lake Gardens on Sunday.
Lake Gardens or it’s proper name Taman Botani Perdana is to Kuala Lumpur what Central Park is to New York and Hyde Park is to London.
It is a truly beautiful space that all Malaysians should be proud of. From my observations, all park-goers kept to the SOP – temperature and MySejahtera scans as well as not more than two persons in a group.
The reason I ventured to Lake Gardens was because my neighbourhood hiking trail, Taman Persekutuan Bukit Kiara, was shut. Unlike every other park in Kuala Lumpur (there are 14), Bukit Kiara is managed by the National Landscape Department, so City Hall’s decision to open public parks does not apply here.
I find this confusing and perplexing. Either all parks are open or all parks should be shut. It does not make sense to have different rulings just because different government agencies manage the parks.
This should also apply to state governments. Like in the case of Selangor, why leave it to the individual local authorities in the state to decide on park openings?
My suggestion would be to allow these parks to be open but with strict SOP. If the authorities feel that too many people are congregating in a certain park, implement staggered entry or allow people to enter in batches.
And, if the public are stubborn and do not follow SOP, the authorities can always shut access. This happened last year after our first MCO when the government lifted restrictions. Parks were open, but in June, City Hall closed the Titiwangsa park and threatened to close four more because people blatantly broke the rules.
This carrot and stick approach should be used, because Malaysians just don’t learn. Our lack of civic mindedness is notorious but perhaps this second MCO has taught us to not take access to public parks for granted.
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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