Striking a balance amidst effort to contain the COVID-19 pandemic

By Aznan Mat Piah

Who says staying at home during lockdown is driving you bored simply because you can’t find anything useful to pass the time? No doubt, there could be some among us who can’t avoid feeling daunting, restless or unsettled, but the fact is that we ought to be grateful to have come this far in effort to contain the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. We all did it. We complied with the movement control order (MCO).

Look, it’s been more than a month as we moved into the fourth phase of the MCO, now seen as a recovery stage. Amidst measures imposed by the authorities to contain the deadly virus, we have been keeping abreast with development by following media reports from the comfort of our home.

I, for one, have never missed the daily press conference by the Senior Minister (Security cluster), Datuk Sri Ismail Sabri Yaakob at around 2 p.m that is televised live on all channels. The other being a daily press briefing by the Director General of Health, Datuk Noor Hisham Abdullah usually held at 5 p.m. which I have been following intensely.

Why do you think that it is so important to follow the Minister’s press conference? The answer lies in the useful facts and information communicated to the public that concerned security and compliance towards the MCO to serve as a reminder for people to observe the order. These facts are vital because they can determine an increase or a decrease in the number of infections. The movement of people, if not controlled, could contribute to exponential spike in cases of infections which is something the authorities would want to avoid.

There are useful information to learn from the briefing about situation in certain areas or districts that have been identified as seriously infected or categorised as red zone where enhanced movement control order (EMCO) is immediately enforced. This is to ensure that safety and precautionary measures like quarantine and sanitation could be immediately taken. People living in the areas bordering the infected districts need to take precautions as well.

Apart from giving warning to the people not to violate the order, public are also informed on the number of cases arrested and charged in court. So, the Minister’s words are meant to be taken seriously, especially by those who still think it is ‘fun’ to flout the law and order.

As stated by the World Health Organisation (WHO), it is crucial for the public in any country to take seriously the implications of lockdown not being observed as the disease can be spread very easily. Every country has been forewarned that coronavirus is contagious and dangerous if the lockdown intended to restrict and control movement of the people is not fully observed.

The success of the effort to contain the COVID-19 pandemic depends very much on the support and compliance of the public towards the procedures that have been laid down in ensuring that the chain of transmission of the virus be broken.

On the lighter side, the public was quick to notice the colourful designs in the batik shirt worn by the Minister at the press conference, which became trendy on social media when the multicolour designs of his shirt was later associated with the colour of the juadah or desserts for breaking of fast that served as model.

The dress worn by the Minister has somewhat set a tone to balance the mood as he appeals to the audience to remain calm and cool during lockdown. Amidst tense and restless environment that requires public to remain obedient to the call of staying at home, the Minister’s dress added colour that cheered up the mood of the press conference. Regardless of whether it is pure coincidental or deliberately planned, the dress part of the Minister has given a positive impact.

The message delivered by the Minister requires people to fully understand the rationale as to why the public must comply with the order or to observe strictly the standard operating procedure (SOP) set by the National Security Council or Majlis Keselamatan Negara (MKN) and the Ministry of Health on the practice of social distancing and healthcare procedures. As the goal is to contain the deadly virus and ‘flatten the curve’, how could the job be done effectively if people start to move around? In the words of the Prime Minister “ke sana ke sini, ke sana ke sini“. Just think about it.

Admittedly, the Minister has a tough job to get everybody to obey the order. His message therefore must not only sound firm and clear but persuasive and convincing enough to move the people to abide very closely with the order.

Interestingly, during the earlier phases of the MCO, the approach taken by the authorities was persuasive in nature by politely giving people the advice. When the approach on advising did not work among certain people, the government took another approach by taking a more firmed measure by compounding the violators. And when this also did not work, the government had no choice but to take a more stringent approach by applying the law strictly. As a result, we noticed thousands of violators were arrested daily and many of them were then charged in court. Those guilty of the offence received jail sentence or were fined.

So, while I like to think the dress part is the lighter side to inject colour to reduce tension amidst seriousness in the battle to curb the spread of the pandemic, the crucial part remains with us to take precautions, to discipline ourselves and to feel responsible at all time to help the authorities contain or curb the spread of COVID-19 pandemic.

As the MCO is about to relax its rules come Monday (4 May) with conditional movement control order, when major sectors of the economy particularly big corporations have been allowed to go into full operation following the announcement by Prime Minister, Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin on Friday (1 May), it would be interesting to follow how far guidelines and standard operating procedures (SOPs) are going to be observed strictly.

Here is the question of striking a balance between life and livelihood. On the one hand our concern is with health and healthcare, on the other hand is the consideration for employment and earning a living. While the business sector has put pressures on the government to allow them to reopen their businesses, the government is also concerned that the lockdown cannot continue to be extended at the expense of the country losing to the economy.

The public would want to know how far business houses would comply with the procedures as many fear a resurgence or a sudden surge of cases would only undo what we have achieved. While the MCO will continue to be enforced, a lot now depend on the discipline of the public in practicing social distancing within the context of the new normal which is now a reality. The onus will not just fall on the government but on the people where both social compliance and social responsibility apply. As we continue to battle the COVID-19 pandemic, we must keep ourselves informed of the lessons that can be learned along the way. ***

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