By Joachim Ng
Perakians must get their MPs and ADUNs to send a loud message to the Federal Government that they want the next full lockdown to be imposed when national cases throughout the country hit 1,000 per day, and not when they hit 5,000. The Full Movement Control Order implemented from June 1 was planned only when cases had exceeded 5,000 per day.
This revealed a major deficiency in political decision-making because it came too late. Rats had taken over the city before pest control was brought in. That’s why cases shot up to 9,000 per day, 40 days into the FMCO lockdown. The big lockdown produced an equally big letdown.
Queensland state in Australia hit 5 cases on June 21 and imposed a lockdown on June 30. It was lifted less than a week later when cases dropped to just one. The Perak Government should think along similar lines: the day the state hits 100 cases, a full lockdown should be planned that includes total closure of state borders.
If we lock down at 1,000 cases nationwide, recovery could take just 14 days. A lockdown at 5,000 cases will have to stretch three months, although Perak is recovering earlier with a transition to Phase 2 of the National Recovery Plan. Malaysia, as a whole, can only be expected to resume normalcy in September. How many millions would have lost their jobs and how many hundreds would have committed suicide by then?
A hundred thousand businesses employing close to a million people have already shut down. Another half million people engaged in the shopping mall and retail industry will be retrenched if by October a full lockdown still grips the Klang Valley. A further 550,000 small and medium-sized businesses will shut down and this means that another five million Malaysians may lose their jobs.
Klang Valley feeds the Perak tourist industry, and if Klang Valley is transformed into a Valley of White Flags, so will Kinta Valley. The ‘lives vs livelihoods’ debate is nonsensical because the jobless are dying through suicides. We need a radical new strategy that protects lives and livelihoods together.
The Government slipped up badly when it waited till the 5,000 mark had been hit before imposing a full lockdown. It slipped up again by separating all businesses into essential sectors that can operate and non-essential sectors that must close. In doing so, the Government closed tens of thousands of SOP-compliant outlets across a wide swath of industries. Only big corporations can survive a prolonged shutdown.
In a controlled full lockdown of just 14 days with no extension, the essential services that can be allowed to operate are those providing water, electricity, gas, internet, telephone, newspapers, and medical care. Also allowable are SOP-compliant grocery stores, supermarkets, takeaway food outlets, and maintenance/emergency repair services. All other businesses must close and treat these 14 days as a long break.
When cases have surged past 5,000 a day, medical school math tells you that 14 days is clearly insufficient to contain the pandemic. You need 40 days at the very least. More likely you need 60 days or even 90 days. The FMCO beginning June 1 should have been planned to last 40 days and not 14 days with ceaseless extensions.
In any full lockdown extending beyond 14 days, the correct division of businesses is to separate the SOP-compliant outfits from the SOP-defiant outfits. Every sector of the economy has both compliant and defiant outfits.
The tragi-comic play of the FMCO is that thousands of defiant outfits classified as essential services are operating at full capacity until many get caught during surprise raids and are suspended. Where do infection clusters occur? Sixty percent are at factories, construction sites, and foreign worker hostels deemed essential and allowed to operate. In one factory, enforcement personnel even found workers eating at the cafeteria.
Very common too are cases involving security guards, cleaners, and gardeners because they live in crammed hostels without physical distancing. The Government expects companies that employ foreign workers to give them proper accommodation. This will never happen because worker hostels are a non-productive expense item meriting very low attention.
The Government must get the property sector GLCs like UEM Sunrise, MRCB, Sime Darby, and SP Setia to take over the accommodation needs of foreign workers. These GLCs have the expertise to build hostels, refit existing buildings, lease suitable houses, and deploy polis bantuan units to ensure strict SOP compliance. The employers of foreign workers will of course have to bear all the expenditure.
There is no space for ruinous decisions. Two months ago, mammoth festive bazaars were allowed in many cities, contributing to such a big surge in cases that the FMCO had to be imposed on June 1. The permit-granting authorities disregarded confirmed medical findings that the virus stayed in the air for a long time and could drift up to several metres easily.
Crowds at bazaars, factories, hostels, restaurants, supermarkets, and prayer houses are just ideal situations for the virus to spread like wildfire. Proper limitations must be imposed should these facilities be allowed to operate. For instance, a restaurant can have two at a table meant for four with all tables well spread out, and diners are compelled to wear shields even while eating. No table, small or large, should have more than two persons.
Factories must appoint Compliance teams and RELA officers while also splitting their workers into Teams A and B to half the numbers present at any time. Why should a factory be allowed to operate merely because it is producing essential goods? It has to first prove itself to be compliant.
Currently, all supermarkets are deemed to be essential and can operate whether compliant or defiant. Compliant supermarkets diligently thin out the number of shoppers, while defiant ones let in shoppers like flies with the result that they invariably spawn clusters. Why let defiant supermarkets operate until a cluster develops? Let the compliant supermarket operate and shut down the defiant one.
As stated, the right classification is compliance versus defiance. How do you know whether a business outfit will be compliant? In the housing industry, a newly-built house must get a Certificate of Completion and Compliance that proves it has fulfilled all the criteria before you can move in to stay. So you issue a Certificate of Covid Compliance (CCC) to any business outfit that fulfils all the SOP criteria. Only with this CCC should it be permitted to operate.
Without revolutionising our approach, Malaysia will be handed its biggest defeat by the smallest of enemies. It’s your life and livelihood at stake. Make your views known to the MPs and ADUNs. Save lives and livelihoods now.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of Ipoh Echo.