By now, most Malaysians know that the standard operating procedure enforced by the authorities in light of the Covid-19 pandemic is basically meant to contain the spread of the scourge in our society – while the world waits anxiously for its vaccine.
In practical terms, it means that we all adhere to the standard operating procedure, such as observing physical distancing, wearing face masks, washing our hands, staying clear of crowded places and undergoing self-quarantine, among other things, to protect ourselves and others as well.
That is how important this procedure should be to us all. To ensure that this message is not lost on all of us, we are reminded by the authorities that offenders could face maximum penalties of a RM1,000 fine and six months’ jail under the Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases Act 1988.
This explains why some social media users were cynical and others outraged when Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin assured fellow Malaysians in a televised address recently that there were no double standards in enforcing the standard operating procedure.
Hundreds of ordinary citizens have been arrested and punished for having flouted this procedure, some fined on the spot while a few were sent to jail. The rotan, to borrow a term Muhyiddin used, has already been used in this context.
And yet, ordinary Malaysians have not heard of politicians, particularly ministers, being given due punishment for having committed similar violations. A few of them instead got only a slap on the wrist.
In this regard, the case of Plantation Industries and Commodities Minister Khairuddin Aman Razali, who flouted the mandatory 14-day quarantine, stuck out like a sore thumb. Lest we forget, Khairuddin attended a parliamentary session and had meetings with others soon after his return from a hushed trip to Turkey. The rule says he should have been quarantined irrespective of whether he was infected. It is obviously a necessary precaution.
Observing the standard operating procedure becomes all the more vital, especially after the end of the recent Sabah state election on 26 September. Since then, a number of politicians, particularly ministers, have been tested positive for Covid-19, a situation referred to by many social media users as #KlusterMenteri.
And since then, there has been a significant spike in the number of Covid-19 infections in a few parts of the country, as well as few deaths – which is indeed worrying.
Another movement control order, as a move to stem the tide, is likely to further cripple the already ailing economy.
The public admission by Religious Affairs Minister Zulkifli Mohamad Al-Bakri that he tested positive for Covid-19 should have raised a red flag to all concerned, especially the federal cabinet.
This is apart from the fact that there were a few other politicians from both sides of the divide who tested positive for Covid-19, mostly contracted during the Sabah elections campaign period.
Like many other ruling politicians, Zulkifli met a lot of people in his daily routine. He had met with various individuals and groups, including those from the National Security Council and three local universities. His range of exposure was wide.
It was, therefore, a step in the right direction that a directive was reportedly issued to all cabinet ministers to take a Covid-19 swab test as soon as possible, and it was incumbent upon them to declare their health status as it might affect others who often encounter them, particularly members of the media.
But it is equally important that appropriate punishment is meted out to Muhyiddin’s cabinet colleagues should any of them violate the standard operating procedure.
By doing so, the government would be sending an important message that it is willing to walk the talk in this fight against the scourge that defies social status, ethnicity, and political, cultural and religious affiliations.