Re-Think The Conditional MCO, Please

A stretch of vehichles queue for inspection at a police roadblock ereted to combat the Covid-19 pandemic outbreak at Jalan Kuala Kangsar, Ipoh – RONNIE CHIN/The Star

Locking down a country is an expensive exercise, no doubt.  After 45 days and almost RM63 billion loss made, the government has decided to loosen the Movement Control Order (MCO) a bit to kickstart the economy.

The announcement of a Conditional MCO (C-MCO) by the Prime Minister was made as part of his Labour Day speech.  Most sectors of the economy will be allowed to operate again on Monday 4 May 2020, except those that involve services where physical contact cannot be avoided, or where crowd control is virtually impossible.  Restaurants are allowed to operate as long as they meet requirements such as checking the body temperature of customers, prepare a registry for customers to leave their contact details in case contact tracing is required, maintaining a 2-meter distance between tables, and place lines on the floor for customers to queue before paying their bill.

Offices, too, should produce their own Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) and prepare physical health risk mitigation measures such as providing body temperature checks, separating cubicles, common area and items cleaning procedures, flexible working times so that workers do not all come to the office at the same time, and so on.

For those who are health-conscious, they can now resume jogging, or riding their bicycle, play tennis, badminton or even golf – as long as social distancing is maintained and not done in a large group.

Some say it is high time that the government returns the responsibility of not spreading the virus back to the public.  After all, it is not like the virus is going to go away in such a short time.  It will take another two years before the war against COVID-19 can be won.  Therefore, we should learn to live with it.  Just follow the recommendations: maintain your social distance and wash your hands thoroughly more frequently.

The only problem is rules and regulations to Malaysians are like bicycles are to fish.  They just don’t care.  Almost immediately after the announcement was made, traffic on the road increased, parents took their children out to do groceries, some are already without face masks.  Wet markets no longer see social distancing.  Videos and photos of the Batu Berendam Wholesale Market, the Sumayyah Market in Tumpat, and the Taman Maluri Wet Market showed that it was free for all again.  That night and even last night, cars were back on the roads while motorcycles raced through the wee hours of the morning. And to top that all off, a policeman was killed by a speeding Toyota Hilux driven by a drunk driver!

I understand that it is costing the government in the region of RM2.4 billion for every day that the economy is under a lockdown.  I understand the need to kickstart the economy so that money could be made and jobs could be saved.  But pray tell, how does playing tennis or going jogging help kickstart the economy?

The announcement of the implementation of the Conditional MCO was made on a Friday, such wrong timing, because the implementation starts the following Monday.  There is not enough time for companies to have SOPs and physical health risk mitigation steps in place.  I do not know why is there a rush to get things done but this is just like that stupid decision to allow barbers and hairdressers to operate – a decision that was rescinded the following day.

The government should have given time between Monday 4 May to Friday 8 May for these measures to be in place first and announce the first day of work as Monday 11 May instead.

It is also good that restaurants are allowed to open, but dining-in is really not necessary.  Most restaurants have remained open since the start of the MCO to allow operators to deliver food to customers or for them to do self-pickup.  Yes, sales must have been a lot less than normal then, but how many tables and chairs can a restaurant have with social distancing being a prerequisite?  The whole idea of an MCO is to reduce exposure to the Coronavirus.  People will be going back to work and will definitely need to eat.  Therefore, I think it would be wiser to maintain restaurant operations for takeaways and deliveries as the volume of sales will go up anyway.  That would help reduce the exposure to the Coronavirus.

According to Dr Phillippa Lally, a Senior Research Fellow at the University College’s Behavioural Science and Health department, it takes more than two months before a new behaviour becomes automatic – 66 days to be exact.  What it means is that it takes 66 days for this new habit of wearing face mask, washing of hands for more than 20 seconds, social distancing and so on would take 66 days before it becomes a habit.

For that reason, during the first three months of military training no recruit or officer cadet are allowed to have visitors or go on outings because new values are being grinded into them.  Once these values have become a new habit, they are allowed some freedom.  These new habits will only become a lifestyle in six months, the time that they are allowed to graduate.  For officer cadets, they spend another six months being turned into officers from mere soldiers.

Even Emeritus Professor Datuk Dr Lam Sai Kit agrees that the Conditional MCO has been introduced too early.  Citing the 95 local transmissions out of 105 new cases on Saturday, the Nipah virus expert said that there are still too many local transmissions for the government to relax the MCO.

The academician who was involved in the discovery of the Nipah virus in 1998 said in a press statement that he does not object to the loosening of MCO, but the relaxation is far too much and too soon.

“With the relaxation of MCO, there is every likelihood of a surge of new clusters and cases. Can we really cope with increased testing and contact tracing?

“Can we empower and engage the community to do their part in preventing the spread of the coronavirus?” he asked.

He expressed concerns that if the country faces a resurgence of cases, the MCO would have to be reinstated and what had been undertaken would be wasted.  Already on Sunday 3 May, we are seeing 122 new cases, with only 52 imported cases while 70 others are local transmissions.  There were two deaths as well.

The government should seriously re-think this Conditional MCO and not bow down to any pressure given by any quarter.  It was doing very well with its way of handling the COVID-19 crisis and citizens sang praises for it, until the PM decided to announce the Conditional MCO.

(This article was first published by The Mole )

RMO Day 26

Graph showing COVID-19 total cases, daily cases, total recovered, daily recovered, and total deaths in Malaysia from 11 March 2020 till 12 April 2020

Every day at 5pm I would listen in to the daily briefing by the DG Health Ministry. Although I applaud the efforts being done by the Ministry, I should caution against any form of optimism. Today, 12 April 2020, is no different. It is the 26th day of the Restricted Movement Order.

In the first graph, the blue line at the top represents total number of cases while the grey line beneath it represents total number of those who have recovered. Optimally, we should see the blue line tapering and flattening, the grey line showing exponential increase whilst decreasing the gap between the two. It is only when the blue line flattens and the grey line crosses it could be breathe a sigh of relief. Unfortunately, that hasn’t happened.

Graphs showing daily COVID-19 deaths and recovered cases in Malaysia from 11 March 2020 till 12 April 2020

In the second graphs, you can see that the number of daily deaths is showing a steady increase while those who have recovered daily is going on a downward trend. Our percentage of deaths have increased from 1.58 percent to 1.62 percent of total cases. 

Sure, today we also saw a drop in the number of daily new cases, but we are still getting at least 150 new cases daily. And there still are thousands of results pending, and I am sure a huge number of those with the virus still undetected.

If anyone is optimistic that we are winning the war, that certain sectors of industries ought to be allowed to operate, or that internal borders should be re-opened to allow movements, think again.

This war is far from over.

Laughter Is The Best Medicine

Ignorant? Stupid? Or agent provocateur?
My late brother underwent a brain surgery in Sydney four years ago this month because the congenital condition called arteriovenous malformation was the largest any neurosurgeon had ever seen here. I was there for about two weeks to encourage his post-surgery progress.

One morning as I walked from the hotel across the street to the hospital I saw a man, evidently recovering from a keyhole prostate surgery standing outside the hospital building smoking a cigarette. He was from Ireland and was in Sydney for a holiday when he had to undergo an immediate surgery.

He asked me what I was doing there and where am I from. When he heard the name Malaysia his eyes widened and said, “Good God! I would have gone to Malaysia for this surgery if I could. It costs a bomb here. My sister met an accident in Malaysia and was in a government hospital to undergo corrective surgeries and it was dirt cheap and good too!

It costs RM1.00 for a person seeking outpatient treatment to see a doctor, and RM5.00 to see a specialist. The medicines are given for free. Surgeries would cost a bit more. My daughter underwent an appendectomy and that cost me less than RM100.00. No doubt she had to be in an open Class 3 ward but the pre and post surgery care was better than in most of the private hospitals I have been admitted to.

A foreigner would have to pay a lot more. Even then it would still be cheaper than seeking treatment at a private hospital in Malaysia. My former maid fell and broke her forearm and I was forewarned that it would cost me a lot to send her for treatment at a government hospital. It cost me about RM1,200 if my memory serves me right to have her undergo surgery to have her broken bone screwed into place.

The Full Paying Patient is a program that allows someone who could afford such luxury, or has a good medical insurance scheme, to obtain virtually personal medical care at a government hospital at a very competitive price. Not only that, if you or those close to you suffer from cancer, there is a National Cancer Institute that provides treatment at very affordable price.

Among other initiatives that have been taken by the government is providing Human Papillomavirus (HPv) vaccination to 13-year old schoolgirls and young women nationwide for free. Mind you, each injection costs RM600.00! And Malaysia is among the first countries in this region to implement such a program.

I am also baffled by complaints by fellow veteran servicemen about the lifetime allowances given to athletes who excelled during the Olympics and Paralympics in Rio de Janeiro recently. What the veterans never realise is that apart from the monthly pension that they receive (for those who served until pensionable age) the 85,000 veterans receive free medical care for the rest of their life and that definitely costs more than the RM3,000 that is given to less than twenty athletes. Imagine the cost the government has to fork out as a token of appreciation for services rendered.

In the latest 2017 Budget announced by Prime Minister Najib Razak today the government continues to put importance to health of the veteran servicemen and the rakyat‘s. RM55 million have also been allocated to help veterans handicapped during the counter-insurgency periods. RM25 billion have been allocated for the upgrading of hospitals and government clinics, provision of equipment for cardiology treatment, and the operation of Klinik 1Malaysia, mobile Klinik 1Malaysia, government clinics and also rural government clinics.


On top of that RM110 million have been allocated to open up private haemodialysis centres and to assist almost 10,000 people who cannot afford medical care.


Now who says that the government does not care for the well-being of the rakyat? A certain nonagenaric has-been politician even said the government has no money to help the rakyat. Probably due to his age he has forgotten that his medical bills for the repeated treatments at the National Heart Institute is all paid for by the government of Malaysia led by Najib Razak.

As the Malay saying goes: “Kufur Nikmat.” Which is why I often laugh at him nowadays.