Sunday, May 03, 2020

Too risky to loosen MCO on 4th May onwards

The Federal Government had on May 1st 2020 announced a Conditional MCO, which allows almost all businesses to resume operations. The Prime Minister in his announcement stresses the point that some businesses will still have to be closed until 12th May. It is unsure if such Conditional MCO (CMCO) will be extended after 12th May. It is also unsure if the whole MCO will be lifted after 12th May.

Such CMCO, as I understand correctly, would virtually mean the end of MCO, as most if not all business activities will be allowed to operate. I would like to quote Selangor Anti Covid19 Taskforce Chairperson, who is also the former Health Minister, Datuk Seri Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad, that we should not be too optimistic though the number of recorded new daily cases are slowing down as the chance of another outbreak is still possible. This is evident from the fact that there were zero recorded cases for days before the second wave outbreak in the beginning of March 2020. Today, we have recorded a three digit new cases after enjoying days of double digit new cases. In short, to implement a CMCO on 4th May is just too risky.

There are also examples from other countries when there are resurgence of new cases or new outbreaks when the authority lifted their own versions of MCO or lockdown. Therefore, while many has been suggesting the drawing up of an exit plan with many soft-landing measures to adapt to the new norms, many has regarded the May 1st announcement is more like a crash-landing when many industry and business players are not fully prepared for such CMCO.

One crucial question is: Has the curve really been flattened? Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad suggested that though the number of daily reported new cases has dropped to two digits, the total number of testings (denominator) carried out so far remain relatively small as compared to our population and it is not conclusive at this stage that we are moving towards flattening the curve. Furthermore, there are enough examples to show that such outbreak could reoccur when a lockdown order or MCO is lifted or even when there are no new reported daily cases.

Another cause of concern is to what extent we have to mobilise our enforcement teams to enforce the laws related to movement control during CMCO period? For example, many will return to work on 4th May but the police, the military personnels, RELA officers etc will still be on the street examining and checking every single vehicles. Will this cause massive traffic jam on the road? Yes, but is it not true that we are still in MCO period, despite a conditional one? Therefore, it is a dilemma for the officers because it will not be a straight-forward job for them.

Take food and beverages industry for example. Restaurants are now allowed to open, but there are precautions to be followed. How are the enforcement officers from local councils to monitor with close eyes the adherence to the new rules or new norms? Do we have enough officers to do the job? Will they be assisted by other enforcement agencies? If yes, will this drain valuable resources of the police force, whose primary task is to maintain rules and orders? It will create a lot more confusions for enforcement officers and perhaps more opportunities for corruptions.

Let me quote another example quoted by the Prime Minister which I think is impractical. He puts up an example on how husband and wife can take turns to return to workplaces. How would working parents be able to work in peaceful mind when schools, kindergartens or daycare centres are still closed? 

To make everything simple, the federal government can just maintain the status-quo until 12th May but opening up certain manufacturing or service sectors in stages to reduce losses. We should fully utilise such period to have more meaningful discussions and dialogue with industry players to firm up a preliminary guidelines for the new norm. 

We should be doing more than what is required by WHO. My personal opinion is that WHO has committed a serious mistake in not enquiring deeper into the virus in mainland China when it first erupted in Wuhan in Dec 2019. Has WHO done a bit more than taking everything from the Chinese regime at face value, we would not have encountered such global pandemic, the global community won't have to bear such big losses and our working class and SMEs would be savoured from such heavy losses. In fact, I would like to suggest that one of the new norm we should adopt now is to do more than what are required by WHO. Better safe than never.  

To be on the safe side, MCO should be extended until after Hari Raya Puasa and Gawai/Kaamatan School Holiday. Loosening up MCO on 4th May is too risky. Let's have a bit more time for everybody to do a soft-landing and get used to the new norm. Let our medical frontliners be really focused on treating the thousand plus active cases on their hands. Let's really flatten the curve and drive daily reported new cases to the very minimum. Let our Parliament and Parliamentarians do their jobs to debate and discuss these life-saving matters. This is my sincere advice and opinions.

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