The world today needs all of us to cultivate the collective responsibility to reduce Covid-19 transmissions and to flatten the curve of the outbreak, stressed Khoo Ying Hooi.
As the world struggles with the rapid spread of Covid-19, some choose to be ignorant. We all react differently to stressful situations. How we respond to the Covid-19 outbreak can depend on many reasons, for instance, our backgrounds and the community we live in.
A YouTube video that a friend shared in Facebook, on a spring break party in Miami prompted me to pen down my thoughts. A young man in the video is quoted of saying, “If I get corona, I get corona… At the end of the day, I’m not going to let it stop me from partying. We’ve been waiting for Miami spring break for a while.”
The video caused public outrage since it was put online. This shows the struggle that some cities have to face in efforts to get their people to take the pandemic seriously.
Many of us in Malaysi have been following news of how the 16,000 strong religious gathering in Sri Petaling mosque complex led our country to a movement control order for two weeks starting from 18 March [now extended to 14 April].
The struggle to contain infections linked to religious practices underscores the conflict of some who wish to uphold their religious rights in fighting a pandemic. Neighbouring countries such as Singapore, Cambodia, Thailand and Brunei have reported cases that could be traced back to this gathering.
It was also reported that some of the worshippers who attended the event have refused to be tested, preferring to rely on God to protect them.
The partygoers and the religious followers defend their individual rights to continue to do what they think they should be allowed to do. Around the world, many of us also have expressed our anger and frustration with such actions.
In one of my recent tweets related to the initial decision by the Selangor Islamic Religious Department (Jais) not to close the mosques and to allow activities to continue – the decision has since been retracted – one netizen responded that I should be more understanding because in times of uncertainty, people lean on their faith and that it is not ignorance as I had referred to it in my tweet.
Amidst a global pandemic where everyone is calling for social distancing as a key tool in the fight against its spread, some partygoers and religious followers find this an irrational call, as they claim it is a form of “violation” of their freedom.
But the issue here is, we are facing a public health crisis, and so, when the rights of individuals and communities clash, whose should prevail?
Around the world, while restrictions have continued to tighten, we continued to see public gatherings being carried out in countries with reported cases. For instance, recently, some 1,500 Catholics attended an ordination mass for a new bishop in Indonesia’s Manggarai regency, despite restrictions on mass gatherings over the fear of the outbreak, as reported in the Jakarta Post.
In Canada, despite Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s announcement of the extraordinary measures against the outbreak, people continued to gather in big numbers at Kitsilano Beach.
Similar ignorance could be found in the UK, where it came under fire after several large concerts and sporting events went ahead amidst the pandemic and the country’s escalating cases.
Many were shocked to see pictures of concerts of Welsh band Stereophonics recently. Facing worldwide criticism, the band’s spokesman defended their decision.
As individuals, we all have the freedom of expression and of assembly. But as part of the communities, like individuals, we also have rights. Collectively, we are entitled to protection from threats to our health and safety. This is when these two categories of rights clash – and we need to balance the two – between the questions of liberty versus security.
Is there an inherent conflict between individual and collective rights as popularly raised? It is not necessary to view it in a way that someone must lose in relation to this global pandemic.
Unfortunately, these debates are too often based on confused notions about the meaning of collective rights. In the midst of the chaos over Covid-19, there needs to be wise accommodation between liberty and security for the common good.
We see some countries appear to be having more success in controlling ithe pandemic, such as Hong Kong and Taiwan. While calls have intensified for social distancing measures, we should always remember that, as we do physical distancing, we do not lose social solidarity.
A community is a group of people with common interests and values. As time goes by, with new cases of infection rising around the world, we all need to realise the community responsibilities that we have, ie our obligations to the community that encompass of cooperation, respect and participation.
Every right has a corresponding duty, and it is the responsibility of the individual to watch over a community to make sure that standards are objective and beneficial to the human race.
To the partygoers and religious followers who insist that it is their right to participate in public gatherings, my question to you is, what happens when your wishes conflict with what is in your best interest?
Here, we are facing issues that can arise when the rights of individuals conflict with the benefits to the population in relation to infectious diseases like Covid-19, which has turned the whole world upside down.
Within the ideas of rights and fundamental freedoms is also the idea of responsibilities. The world today needs all of us to cultivate collective responsibility to reduce Covid-19 transmissions and to flatten the curve of the outbreak.
Dr Khoo Ying Hooi, an Aliran executive committee member, is senior lecturer at the Department of International and Strategic Studies in the University of Malaya.
Source: Malay Mail