The country is on a “war footing” and so far, progress reports from the “battlefields” are not encouraging. Everyday, civilian “commanders” are sending in grim updates: the number of coronavirus cases is increasing, with more deaths recorded.
Many people have been jailed for breaking the lock and moving about freely, but there is a big group of people who are not in the net yet. They are the participants of the tabligh event at the Sri Petaling mosque in Kuala Lumpur, who have repeatedly ignored pleas to come out and get tested for COVID-19.
The alarm was triggered when one of the participants from Brunei at the four-day event (from Feb 27 to March 1) was confirmed to have contracted the disease. Subsequently, there were also Malaysian casualties linked to the event.
Out of the more than 10,000 who took part in this international convention of Islamic missionaries, about 5,000 are Malaysians — a figure large enough to infect thousands of people if everyone is tested positive.
Where are they “hiding”? Are they holding out in the kampung? Why are they reluctant to show up? Do they think they are immune to the disease? Are they not aware they are posing a grave threat to the health of their loved ones?
It looks like they are not going to come out in droves. They are hunkering down somewhere, perhaps hoping that the storm will blow over.
It appears that the soft approach — beseeching, cooing, advising — is not working on the group. Maybe, the matter is sensitive, but this is not the time to worry about the consequences of a crackdown on these adamant individuals.
It is time the government went looking for them wherever they are because these visible targets cannot be allowed to remain free. Perhaps, the army should launch a massive manhunt.
Village chiefs can chip in by advising the suspected carriers to listen to the voice of reason. Leaflets can also be distributed to the kampung, urging those who have participated in the tabligh convention to come out and get tested for COVID-19.
If some of the participants are reported to be staying in high-rises in urban areas, then the soldiers and the police must cordon off the place and climb the stairs to check out floor by floor.
If the desired result is still not achieved, then impose a curfew on all these targeted kampung and urban sectors to catch the suspects.
In this all-out war, religious figures must also be enlisted to try and get all the individuals to obey the call to come forward and hand themselves over to the authorities.
These religious leaders can go on air and hammer home the stark message that the prolonged “standoff” can lead to a progressive meltdown of the country’s health system, with dire consequences.
The war on COVID-19 must be fought on all fronts with no let-up until the visible and invisible threat is removed. The tabligh participants must top the list of targets because they pose a grave danger to the health of the entire country.
The pandemic clock is ticking and time is running out. More people are falling sick and more will succumb to the illness. The tabligh participants must realise that they are potential carriers of a virulent bug that can infect many people. As long as they are still at large, there is always the ever-present danger that the contagion will spread far and wide.