By Xavier Kong
PRIME Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin announced on March 16 a Movement Control Order (MCO) imposed under the Control of the Spread of Infectious Diseases Act 1988 and the Police Act 1967, from March 18 to 31.
Prior to March 16, rumours of a lockdown have been floating around. After the MCO announcement, many people were confused as to what this means and how they are affected.
Essentially, MCO is actually a partial form of lockdown. While non-essential services are expected to close within the stipulated period, will the businesses abide by the order? What will be the penalty if one is found to have disregarded the order and continue to operate as usual?
So, what does the MCO mean?
For one, all places of learning, from kindergartens to higher institutes and vocational schools, will be closed for the duration of the MCO, with higher education institutes transitioning to online lectures in some cases.
All mass gatherings in the country, including religious, sporting, social, and cultural events, are to be postponed or cancelled. All places of worship, and businesses excluding essential services, will be closed as well.
This is basically a means through which the government is establishing a form of mitigation, of “flattening the epidemic curve,” which is basically to lower the odds of a spike in infected numbers that would overwhelm the healthcare system.
This can clearly be seen with the spike over the past two days, which saw confirmed cases in the country almost double in number, due to public gatherings. As at March 16, there were 125 new Covid-19 cases, raising the tally of infections in the country to 553.
While a list of essential services has been issued, this has not cleared the air for many people.
The essential services identified are as follows:
- Banking services
- Electricity services
- Fire services
- Port, dock, harbour and airport services and undertakings, including stevedoring, lighterage, cargo handling, pilotage and storing or bulking of commodities
- Postal services
- Prison services
- Production, refining, storage, supply and distribution of fuel and lubricants
- Public health services
- Radio communication services, including broadcasting and television services
- Telegraph, telephone and telecommunication services
- Transport services by land, water or air
- Water services
- Any service provided by any of the following government departments:
- (i) Chemistry
- (ii) Civil Aviation
- (iii) Customs and Excise
- (iv) Immigration
- (v) Marine
- (vi) Meteorology
- (vii) Printing
- Services which are connected with, or related to, or which assist towards, the maintenance and functioning of the armed forces and the Royal Malaysian Police Force
- Businesses and industries which are connected with the defence and security of the country
- Any section of any service, on the working of which the safety of the employees therein or of the establishment relating thereto depends
- Industries declared by the Minister by notification in the Gazette as industries essential to the country’s economy.
How about businesses of a mixed nature? While supermarkets will be open, what if they are operating within a shopping mall? Will the shopping mall be allowed to operate? Then, what about the rest of the retail outlets in the mall, can they also operate? Will these retail outlets still have to pay rent if they close?
Another example would be support services for the essential services listed above. A source within port equipment supply and maintenance services shared to FocusM that the issue of whether or not factories fabricating spare parts for ports will remain open is up in the air.
“The rate at which a port would go through spare parts for maintenance is very high, and there are daily orders that have to be fabricated to meet these demands. How is a port to remain functional if its equipment has all broken down, especially after the port has exhausted its store of parts?” says the source.
If such support services for essential services are allowed to continue operating as usual, then there will be loads of other support services which would want to follow suit.
Another issue that the announcement fails to address is the large number of Malaysians who commute daily to neighbouring Singapore for work. With the MCO in place, stating that all Malaysians are barred from leaving the country, what will happen to the livelihood of these Malaysians?
Fortunately, the Singapore government was quick to address this issue stating that its agencies and trade associations are ready to help local employers to provide temporary accommodation in the republic for their Malaysian workers.
Questions also arise for foreign workers in Malaysia who work on a daily-rated basis. These are the workers who toil to build up Malaysia, spending months and years away from their home and loved ones. What about them?
There are also rumours that there will be a follow-up announcement by the Prime Minister’s Office later today, which will hopefully address some of these concerns and questions. – March 17, 2020