From the almost 650,000 confirmed Covid cases so far, which is nearly 2% of the Malaysian population, we can assume that two-thirds of them were infected because they did not comply with the official Covid prevention measures.
The remainder could be the less fortunate ones who followed the rules but somehow still got infected, eg family members and frontline personnel.
I can understand that the Malaysia government had to implement a full lockdown because the situation was so critical and the available medical facilities are under tremendous pressure and on the brink of collapse.
The key issue is how to deal with those people who breach Covid-prevention rules. It would seem that fines are not effective. Many people simply cannot afford to pay the fines while others are waiting for the government to waive them after the pandemic is over. And so the fines do not seem to be an effective deterrent.
So, I propose that the government imposes a mandatory ‘social work’ penalty – such as rubbish collection, grass trimming and the cleaning of public facilities – of at least three days. The offenders who have not paid their fines should wear a shirt of a specific colour for identification when they carry out such social work.
Repeat offenders should be charged and given custodial penalties if found guilty, to emphasise the severity of their wrongdoing. This would make the offenders feel the pain of not complying with the rules and help reduce the number of infected cases more effectively.
If they do not turn up for their social work penalty, pick them up for the social work and increase their ‘sentence’ by several days so that they fulfil their social obligations. We should mobilise various enforcement agencies to supervise and implement this initiative.
For businesses which fail to comply with the rules, shut them down for a minimum of two weeks to one month. It is fairer than a full lockdown, which penalises all non-essential businesses – even those complying with the rules – by shutting them down. Fines are often an insufficient deterrent as many businesses can afford to pay them.
It is important for the government to penalise the small minority who are recalcitrant and beach the rules repeatedly. In this way, it can win back the support of the majority.
The announcement of a full lockdown directly or indirectly penalises the entire population and all non-essential businesses. The government may feel it has no other option as medical facilities are collapsing and the daily number of cases recorded is so critical.
Hence, focusing on the right remedy – getting people to comply with the rules – is the key to success in fighting Covid.
Otherwise, we will have to repeat the full lockdown cycle again and again till most of us are fully vaccinated, and this will cause further damage to all of us and the economy.
Teo Chew Kow, a former banker, is currently a businessman. He believes the Covid pandemic in Malaysia can be handled better and wants to provide solutions rather than be a part of the problem