AS we mark the first anniversary of the country’s Covid-19 lockdown, the government should take stock of certain missteps that have hindered and not helped the public.
Chief among them is the imposition of the RM10,000 compound under the Emergency (Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases) (Amendment) Ordinance 2021 for Covid-19-related offences.
It can be argued that the 10-fold increase in fines is necessary to ensure the public adheres to standard operating procedure (SOP), especially during the movement control order period.
But the ambiguity and confusion over the imposition of these fines are an indication that certain decisions made by the National Security Council could have been done in haste.
The RM10,000 compound was first enforced on March 11 and the backlash has been unprecedented.
Examples of heavy-handedness of the authorities as well as arbitrary issuing of compounds over the last week had led to calls for the offences, which are subject to the fine, to be spelt out and not open to interpretation.
Since last week the government has tried to mitigate this latest move by assuring that the fine itself can be reduced at the discretion of the district health officer in the locality where the offence was committed.
But this has failed to allay public fears because without proper guidelines, the district health officer would be empowered with discretionary powers that could be open to abuse.
Hence, the press conference by the Law Minister on Wednesday spelt out the guidelines – first-time offenders and individuals who do not wear masks will be fined RM1,500. Those who do not register themselves or use the MySejahtera app to check in will be fined RM1,500. Those who do not adhere to physical distancing will be fined RM1,500.
If the compound is paid within a week, individuals will be entitled to a 50% discount and will only have to pay RM750.
But RM1,500 is a huge difference from RM10,000. The explanation? The minister said since the RM10,000 compound was enforced on March 11, not a single person has been able to afford the payment.
If the main aim of issuing compound notices is not to punish but to educate people and help prevent the spread of Covid-19 in the country, the implementation of this new ordinance could and should have been handled better.
The issue of double standard and selective prosecution is also something that the government needs to look at. The man on the street, rightly or wrongly, has a perception that VIPs and ministers get off lightly even if they commit Covid-19-related offences. And this isn’t the case with the ordinary citizen who has the book thrown at them and faces the full brunt of the law.
Regardless, it has been a year now, and allowances should be made for pandemic-fatigue. Even though we should still be vigilant and not let our guard down, many people are fed up with lockdowns and the constant SOP that needs to be adhered to.
The government’s assurance that it will no longer impose blanket MCOs is timely and comes as a relief.
“Instead, targeted movement control restrictions will be implemented based on localities and imposed only on specific clusters, ” the Prime Minister confirmed.
But, lockdowns aside, vaccinations and herd immunity cannot come soon enough.
It is therefore heartening to read that the authorities are pushing for all three phases of the National Covid-19 Immunisation Programme be completed by the year-end.
The programme was only due for completion (when 80% of the population is vaccinated) by the first quarter of 2022. This accelerated immunisation process is going to take some doing though when you consider that only a little over one per cent of the population has been vaccinated so far.
A simple calculation will show that if we were to reach the targeted 80% immunity by Dec 31, the government needs to vaccinate close to 100,000 people on a daily basis starting from April 1.
This will pose a huge logistical challenge for the government, but not an impossible one. A clear, definitive plan to ensure the success of this programme needs to be rolled out and all branches of the government have to work in tandem.
But beyond that more needs to be done to convince the public to get vaccinated. On social media platforms, fake news and doubt about the effectiveness of Covid-19 vaccines continue to be circulated.
The Malaysian Medical Association has said that the current rate of people registering for the vaccine was “too slow” in meeting the government’s 80% target.
As we mark the annus horribilis of this unwanted anniversary the government has to be consistent.
Yes, lives and livelihoods need to be balanced but this can only happen if our pandemic numbers are contained and there is a marked increase in our vaccination capability.
Malaysia has a chance to do better in this second year of Covid-19 only if policy makers, the private sector and civil society work together.
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.