Comment | By Wong Chun Wai

Walk the MCO talk, by staying put

NO flip-flops please. The government needs to stand firm in carrying out the measures that were announced as part of the movement restriction order.

Prime Minister Tan Sri Muyhiddin Yassin cannot afford to bend the rules, make compromises or reverse decisions, as that would put at risk the actions that have to be taken to fight the killer Covid-19 virus.

Health director-general Datuk Seri Noor Hisham Abdullah has rightly said that Malaysia risks seeing a third wave of the virus, adding that if that happens, we will see many victims.

He has warned, in clear terms, that failure is not an option and this third wave will be as big as a tsunami, more so if we have a lackadaisical attitude.

Malaysians have only a small window of opportunity to break the two-week transmission chain.

The number of confirmed cases, so far, has not dropped and there are fears that it will go up further.

It doesn’t help when we hear talks are already underway to reopen the southern land crossings with Singapore, barely 48 hours after the order by the PM.

Johor Mentri Besar Datuk Hasni Mohammad must be under tremendous pressure from Johorean workers, business groups, and especially Singapore, which depends on the Malaysian workforce.

He is asking for exemptions, promising increased health screenings and submitting a mitigation plan, but these are mere afterthoughts and essentially would see us going back to the massive bottleneck that we see each day, all over again.

Purported stringent checks, if really effectively carried out, will only hold up the traffic flow and we can imagine what the scene would be like.

Nice try, but if we allow this exemption, we are exposing Malaysians to greater risks.

Malaysia has already made enough blunders, including imposing inter-state travels that require police permits, only to have the order rescinded wihin hours.

None of our police top guns expected the large crowds that swarmed police stations nationwide, and one can imagine the number of bodily contacts that took place.

It would have been much simpler if all Malaysians needed to do was to file the application online, via the Web or an app, but the damage was already done. It was not a practical and enforceable decision unless a curfew was imposed.

Likewise, when the movement control order was imposed, the government did not emphasise the need to stay at home, and not carry the health risks to their families back home. It really was a debacle.

Our leaders are always mindful, perhaps to the point of instilling a false sense of assurance, in their choice of words. Yes, we should not panic Malaysians, but let’s be serious: we are facing an escalating crisis.

It’s good that only the PM has been given the job to talk, and perhaps a few senior ministers. The last thing we need now are conflicting statements or inane remarks that all is well and fine, when it isn’t.

We are worried about taking strong measures, with the fear of a political backlash. But, barely two days after the imposition of strong restrictions, many Malaysians were still flouting the order with continued indifference – although the PM’s “stay home” appeal on television did help to create greater awareness.

Let’s not go the Italian way, where the country has become the epicentre of the virus in Europe, although Covid-19 had already surfaced on Feb 18, where a man sought treatment but was not diagnosed with the virus and was even allowed to go home.

On Feb 23, after more cases and the first two deaths were detected, authorities reportedly put about 50,000 people in Codogno and 10 other towns under lockdown, it was reported, as more measures were imposed on nearby Milan, Italy’s economic engine, including the closure of schools and a 6pm curfew for bars and restaurants.

But like Malaysians, the Italians took life lightly, with Wired in its online edition reported that “without full blown lockdowns, Italians continued to be on the streets. Every day, pictures surfaced of packed ski resorts, free cultural events or people enjoying drinks in crowded places.”

The latest news was that of 345 new Covid-19 deaths in the country, taking its total death toll to 2,503 – an increase of 16 percent.

The total number of cases in Italy rose to 31,506 from a previous 27,980, up 12.6 percent – the slowest rate of increase since the contagion came to light on Feb 21. Italy is the European country hardest hit by the coronavirus.

In another article on Italy, quoting University of Oxford researchers in the journal Demographic Science, the writers pointed out that frequent travel between cities and family homes may have exacerbated the “silent” spread of the novel coronavirus.

“Young people working and socialising in urban areas interact with large crowds, where they may pick up the disease and take it home. If they have no symptoms, they’ll have no clue that they’re infecting their elders, the most vulnerable population, ” Wired reported on March 17.

That sounds familiar, and this is what Malaysian health authorities fear the most from the balik kampung exodus.

We have already used up 48 hours of the two-week deadline, and if we fail to keep the number of confirmed cases down, then it’s time for stricter measures, such as extending wider social restrictions or even imposing a lockdown.

As Italian health researcher Nino Cartabellotta has been quoted as saying, in Wired, “waiting strategies have always favoured the spread of the virus.”

For Malaysia, any u-turn now will surely be ill-advised.

And please, YAB Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Abang Openg, make sure your bodyguards have their body temperature taken and use the sanitisers too, please.