Easing of partial lockdown could come at a price

Photo: TheDigitalArtist/Pixabay

Malaysia needs to make an honest appraisal of the social distancing requirements that will follow the lifting of lockdowns, JD Lovrenciear writes.

The decision by the government to lift the movement control order (MCO) from 4 May 2020 is not going down well among knowledgeable segments of society, including informed medical circles.

Some concerned citizens and groups are already busy circulating public petitions to get the government to reverse its decision that takes effect today, 4 May 2020.

If we critique the move to lift the movement control order, we run the risk of being labelled by some as going against the new government.

But an intelligent assessment of the resurgence of the virus in some well- structured, highly disciplined societies and developed nations has failed to enlighten those in power here.

God forbid, if the next wave strikes? What if the virus re-emerges with a vengeance? Shall we blame it squarely on the people not following standard operating procedures?

Even under the movement control order blanket, we found thousands of people violating the order, despite knowing the penalties (imprisonment and hefty fines).

Not only ordinary people were caught, even ministers and deputies were guilty of not abiding by the order.

Sketch by Wong Soak Koon

So what more when we have a ‘partial’ lifting of the movement control order – knowing how Malaysians are infamous for knee-jerk reactions, ‘cutting corners’ and beating the system. What happens when caution is thrown to the wind as the movement control order is lifted ‘in stages’.

Yes, we can have the standard operating procedures in place for safe mobility of people at work. But let’s not kid ourselves. Will it work? Is it practical?

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Already we are hearing of murmurs among businesses over the procedure that expects companies to bear the sanitisation cost of entire buildings should an employee become a Covid-19 victim.

Have we also factored in the cost of opening for businesses and then having to close again because of another wave?

The arrival of the ‘new normal’ is not like a switch that can be flipped on with the snap of the finger.

How on earth are commuters going to maintain a social distance of two metres in public places and in vehicles? Employers after all are not going to worry about how you get to work.

Unfortunately finding the money to revive the economy seems more important than smartly avoiding another wave.

Is our government so impoverished, after six decades of trumpeting that it is capable enough and knows how to make Malaysians millionaires and billionaires?

Are there not enough funds in the national coffers? No money in the largesse of government-linked companies, which are known for paying unholy fat perks and salaries for appointed leaders?

A post-Covid-19 nightmare in the making?

Malaysia, like many other third world nations, needs to make an honest appraisal of the looming, indispensable social distancing requirements that will follow the lifting of lockdowns.

A two-metre radius that is characteristic of this social distancing will be at the core of the post-Covid-19 ‘new normal’. The government needs to go beyond mere public statements to see through this social distancing, which could last all through 2020 and perhaps beyond.

How will public transport operate? How will eateries operate? How will business premises like banks and government counters operate? Is it just about drawing lines on the floor?

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What about hotels and universities? How do we operate classrooms, supermarkets, wet markets, production lines, hospitals and lifts in terms of floor space and human traffic management?

Underlining this demand for the new normal is the fundamental cost and social factor. How do we ensure that all businesses – which have for decades been built around a certain number of people per square foot – are able to break even?

Within our social, cultural and religious frameworks too, how do we observe social distancing for weddings, funerals, events and celebrations?

Before we even talk of lifting the lockdown (in stages), have the government and private sectors got together to map out the requirements and the level of compliance with social distancing that will be needed to ward off more waves of the pandemic?

Or do we continue to leave it to mere preaching and complaining while we struggle amid economic and political failure?

It appears that without a fully functioning Parliament and without a government endorsed by the people in place, we will have to brace for untold challenges. Meanwhile, even talking of the political quagmire that the country is stuck in now may be deemed as politically incorrect.

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