Malaysia’s Movement Control Order (MCO) has been extended for another month until June 9, the fifth extension since it was enforced in March 2020. So far, Malaysia has gone through four phases of the MCO. Phase 1 was implemented from March 18 to 31 and Phase 2 from April 1 14, where the police and soldiers took charge of the MCO. Phase 3 was executed and ended on April 28 and Phase 4 stretched till May 12.
The MCO has been strained with weeks of bad and sometimes good news with the number of patients fluctuating due to the aggravation of the COVID-19 pandemic. But of course these numbers will swing both ways till all this is over.
Focus of the media
The news is broadcast by our Health Director-General Datuk Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah, who appears on television every day with the much-awaited COVID-19 updates and related news. Sure, sometimes he slips into medical terminology, which can leave us perplexed, but usually, his explanations are clear.
Datuk Dr Noor Hisham, who has been the focus of the media for his straightforward and calm approach, celebrated his 57th birthday in April and his only wish was for all Malaysians to remain at home and observe high hygiene standards.
Before this, hardly anybody knew Dr Noor Hisham. But now he is listed among three of the world's top doctors and public health officials for his approach in handling the COVID-19 pandemic. The two other doctors listed by the China Global TV Network (CGTN) are United States' infectious disease expert Dr Anthony Fauci and New Zealand's director-general of health, Ashley Bloomfield.
When will this end?
But the bigger question remains. When will the MCO be lifted and when will all this end?
Let’s face it. It doesn’t look like it will end anytime soon. According to historians, pandemics typically have two types of endings: the medical, which occurs when the incidence and death rates plummet, and the social, when the epidemic of fear about the disease wanes.
“When people ask, ‘When will this end?’ they are asking about the social ending,” said Dr Jeremy Greene, a historian of medicine at Johns Hopkins University
In other words, an end can occur not because a disease has been vanquished but because people grow tired of panic mode and learn to live with a disease. Allan Brandt, a Harvard historian, said something similar is happening with COVID-19: “As we have seen in the debate about opening the economy, many questions about the so-called end are determined not by medical and public health data but by sociopolitical processes.”
With this, the government has allowed for the Conditional MCO (CMCO) where conditional provisions are given. Many people took advantage of this and went out in large numbers. But the public has been sternly warned that if they flout the CMCO, the MCO may return.
Congregational prayers have also been allowed for all mosques and suraus in the Federal Territories in green zones, under strict SOPs. Many are of the opinion that this is too soon and not safe. The stigma of the Tabligh cluster was bad enough, we don’t need another one.
Function with technology at hand
It’s been about two months now that some of us have stayed home diligently. After that duration or more, the analogue way of operating from the old-fashion office will need to be re-thought. We are now forced to function effectively with the technology at hand. The older among us are now forced to adapt to technology to reach friends, employees and students.
The online semester that academics are trying via trial and error is nothing but intense. For most of us who are used to seeing students face to face in a university environment, we are now forced to talk to our laptops in any quiet corner of the house. Our homes have now become our offices. Some of us are fortunate that we are mostly productive at home, particularly with writing, when devoid of office distractions.
Students are also struggling with online versions of lectures, links that sometimes break, Internet instability and not being able to meet with their respective lectures for consultation. Worst off if you are faced with new students who have just joined the university for their very first semester. They would be totally lost. It is a big responsibility to placate them that the semester will carry on as usual and things will be fine.
Business as usual no more
But will it be fine? There is no such thing as normal or business as usual anymore. There are worries that another extension of the MCO, although necessary, will kill even more businesses. Situations have already changed and evolved, to work around the pandemic.
What is sadder is that Ramadan is coming to an end and Syawal is just round the corner. We have missed going home to see our elderly parents for the breaking of fast and we will probably miss the upcoming Syawal celebrations with them. We simply cannot risk infecting them because they are in the higher bracket of casualties for the pandemic. We also cannot be sure if we are carriers.
There are no longer football matches, concerts or Formula 1. Food courts will be something of the past, so will be movie theatres. Can you imagine yourself sitting in an enclosed place for the entire duration of the movie? Or worse, being on a flight? It really doesn’t matter if you fly business or economy now, with social distancing how will all this work?
In truth, the fight against COVID-19 will be a long haul and the virus won’t disappear even after the MCO has ended. We have heard the reports of the staggering number of deaths around the globe. We have also seen how the frontliners and NGOs have been working hard without proper rest to ensure people get the assistance they need, and we have watched the heart-wrenching videos of young children taken from their homes by hospital personnel because they were tested positive of the disease and the quiet sobbing of the parents in the background. This has to stop.
Due to the many lockdowns all over the world caused by the virus, there are less cars, less airplanes and less people on the streets, hence less pollution. Mother Earth is also healing. Maybe that was the plan all along.
I am resigned to the fact that this ‘new normal’ is here to stay as the virus will still be lurking beyond our homes, waiting to strike at any time. Despite that, we must continue to live and work and we should be grateful to be able to work even under these conditions, albeit the anxieties.
COVID-19 has truly turned our lives upside down. There have been many mistakes made and things that we have taken for granted for so long. Through all this, there must come a realisation of the error of our ways and improve on them. But how long will this realisation remain?
Associate Professor Dr Roslina Abdul Latif is with the School of Media and Communication at Taylor’s University, Lakeside Campus.
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