By Joachim Ng
Tens of thousands of innocent small businesses are facing permanent shutdown with a couple of million people likely to be thrown out of jobs, if the manner of handling the COVID-19 pandemic doesn’t improve.
On June 25, COVID-19 numbers stood at 5,812, almost a month after the Full Movement Control Order (FMCO) was imposed on June 1. If you remember, on June 7 back in the early days of FMCO the number was lower at 5,271. Why has the lockdown failed so miserably? It is due to five big blunders.
Of course, you can hope for a V-shaped economic recovery as the Vaccine is giving confidence of an expectant Victory over the Virus. But watch it: you can still fall Victim to the latest Delta Plus Variant. These are the 6Vs of life from now on.
A V-shaped recovery, if it comes, will splutter if the five big blunders stay uncorrected. None of our vaccines may work against the newly-emerging zoonotic viruses queuing up to invade us. New vaccines will have to be created, taking one year from invention to production. During the waiting time, how are we and the economy going to survive?
Perakians must start demanding that the Government itself comply with the mandatory rule of physical distancing before ordering all non-essential businesses to close. These firms will soon go bankrupt. Here are the five big blunders that occurred during the course of the pandemic and how they must be corrected:
- Sardines in worker hostels
Covid Wave 2 last year sprang from mass outbreaks in foreign worker hostels all over the country. A no-brainer as these hostels are sardine cans. Our Prime Minister complained last month that most employers who engage foreign labour still fail to abide by the Workers’ Minimum Standards of Housing and Amenities Act 1990. But should he be surprised?
Hostels are regarded as a non-productive expense item, meaning the expenditure doesn’t help bring in revenue. So the expenditure is kept as low as possible.
What the Government must do is to take over the building of hostels and back charge the cost of development or refitting to the employers. With the latest fast-track modular building-block technologies developed in China, America, and Europe, hostel complexes can be erected within four months and will be cheaper than cheap housing.
There are GLCs such as UEM Sunrise, MRCB, Sime Darby and SP Setia that engage in housing, and they should play an expanded role to include protection of the economy. The Government should task them with the job of building hostels and retrofitting vacant buildings or leased premises in double-quick time. If employers don’t pay the GLCs for these hostels, seize their assets and sell them off.
Employers should also be compelled to engage the polis bantuan (auxiliary police) of these GLCs to monitor hostel occupancy for SOP compliance. No longer should the auxiliary police have their role confined to safeguarding GLC properties; their expanded role should be to protect the economy from collapse. There is no additional cost if civil servants, instead of being made to keep away from office, are seconded to the GLC auxiliary police units.
If these GLCs had been recruited to play a major role in the Covid war, there would have been no Wave 2 last year. But now they must step forward and use their expertise in housing accommodation to prevent the emergence of Wave 4 after the current lockdown is lifted.
- Absence of factory controls
How did last year’s Wave 2 mutate into this year’s more virulent Wave 3? The industrial and manufacturing sectors are the main culprits. Even now, the bulk of cluster outbreaks happens in factories and construction sites that continue operating under FMCO, without having undergone prior checks on Covid SOP compliance readiness before permission to operate is granted.
How come the Ministry of Trade and Industry has no awareness that most of these outfits employing two million workers have their eyes solely on production SOPs? The public must from now on insist that every factory and construction site obtain a certificate of Covid SOP compliance readiness before operating.
One essential procedure is that all industrial and manufacturing workers must be split into Team A and B groups so that only half are present. Increase the number of shifts by shortening the hours so that workers go home earlier. A small trusted group will form Team C and their job is to monitor everyone’s Compliance with Covid SOPs.
If the Government continues to mollycoddle these essential sectors, be prepared for a life of lockdowns with intermittent free periods like school recess breaks. Your turn to be thrown out of a job will eventually come.
- Reopening of crowded schools
This is another no-brainer. Doesn’t the Ministry of Education know that all schools resemble sardine cans? Yet they were ordered to reopen with clearly visible crowding at the entrance/exit gates, in the classrooms, the corridors, and canteens. Why should any parent be surprised that infection clusters erupted in schools? Is there a 1-metre distance at all times between one pupil and another?
Perakians must insist that before the next reopening of schools, all classes must first be divided into Team A and Team B with attendance on alternate weeks to ensure that students are rigidly spaced out. Make it one week in school and one week home study. Cleaners will be in Team C for Compliance, acting as monitors to compel alternate seating in canteens. All teachers are to be in Team D for Daily attendance. This arrangement should be maintained until COVID-19 has been reduced to a mild flu.
- Festive joy for virus
Massive crowds are the virus’s favourite breeding ground, and city authorities shouldn’t have permitted mammoth street bazaars to operate during festive seasons. This is how we ended up going into the current lockdown.
The public must insist that all festive bazaars from now on be limited to 50 stalls each with deployment of five RELA officers to issue summonses for even the slightest breach of Covid SOP by stallholders or customers.
We must also revert to the primeval tradition of having small crowds only. Prayer crowds are now in the thousands. This is a scenario for tragedy on an unprecedented scale as some new Covid variants can jump from an infected person to a healthy person in a matter of seconds. Two people only need to be close to each other for a brief while.
Entertainment, religious, or business crowds should downsize to no more than 40 in a hall the size of a large function room and no more than 200 in a ballroom-sized hall. Break the congregation into large numbers of smaller crowds gathering at different times or different locations. Lack of willingness to eliminate crowd traditions may bring defeat, as virus mutants mutate further to strengthen their attack capabilities.
- Merrily dining with Covid
In the months before FMCO, highly popular eateries were blindly packing in the crowds with patrons at some tables almost rubbing shoulder to shoulder, and the distance between tables so non-compliant that even some waiters had to squeeze through.
There were no Covid eatery clusters because the patrons differed from meal to meal and from day to day. In fact, there were many reports of sporadic infections caused by lack of physical distancing at these eateries known for their sardine crowds.
Popular eateries must be compelled to be tested for Covid SOP compliance readiness and show willingness to engage RELA officers for crowd supervision before they are allowed to reopen for dine-in. As it is, thousands of innocent restaurants that strictly observe physical distancing have been forced to close along with the sardines cans.
Volunteer patrols must be formed to spy on these eateries, and for every summons issued each volunteer should be paid RM50. If a summons is wrongly issued, the volunteer is fined RM100.
To summarise these points, every business must pass a test for Covid SOP compliance readiness before getting permission to operate. Any business that fails must stay shut even though it may be an essential services outfit. If we remain soft on this, all the innocent SOP-compliant businesses will collapse and it’s game over.