Strong political will needed to take tough measures against Covid-19

Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin’s address to the nation yesterday was timely and reassuring to Malaysians. He has broadly outlined the measures that the government is taking as well as the need for everyone to play their role in facing the Covid-19 pandemic.

Our health ministry is well-equipped with trained and experienced personnel to handle the medical and health aspects of the outbreak. However, there needs to be a coordinated inter-ministry and inter-department approach in facing this threat.

A high-level committee, headed at least by a senior experienced minister with the authority to make decisions and implement them nation-wide, needs to be set up immediately.

State committees, as well as district-level committees, must be set up to work in tandem with this national committee.

Consider declaring Covid-19 as a national health emergency to expedite the mobilisation of resources. We have a window of opportunity to quickly stem the spread of Covid-19 but it is fast closing.

Communications is an essential component. Timely updates and guidance must be given to the public. Use the traditional mass media as well as social media to get the message across.

Come up with clear and practical guidelines for the general public as well as for specific segments, eg those who have coronavirus-like symptoms and those who have come in contact with cases.

This is also to avoid unnecessary fear and straining of our limited health care resources (including unnecessary Covid-19 testing).

Also have tailor-made guidelines for all health professionals (the frontline private health personnel, especially doctors, who are often left out of the loop), the business community (eg offices, factories, hotels, retail outlets, transportation); schools and higher educational institutes.

Disseminate these guidelines widely and update them when necessary.

Set up a well-manned 24-hour hotline for the public to seek advice and assistance, especially targeting those who have coronavirus-like symptoms and those who believe themselves to have come in contact with cases.

The ban on mass gatherings should be outlined more specifically in terms of the types and places of gatherings as well as number of persons. The ban should be closely monitored to ensure compliance.

Discourage the public from travelling (including balik kampong this school holiday) and frequenting public places, unless necessary.

Ensure essential items (foodstuff and daily necessities) are in adequate supply because there will be panic buying and hoarding. Implement restricted sales on such items if necessary.

It was a brave and correct decision by the Raja of Perlis to cancel Friday prayers in his state yesterday. It has also been reported that the Selangor Islamic religious authority (Jais) has banned tabligh activities in mosques and suraus.

The intention is good but the approach is wrong. It should not be perceived as just targeting the tabligh group but instead should be targeted at all mass gatherings and activities.

These piecemeal and different guidelines issued by the different state religious authorities can be confusing to Muslims. Consent should be sought from the state Rulers and Yang di-Pertuan Agong to instruct their respective state religious authorities to revert to a national authority, preferably Jakim, for common guidance.

In this time of a health emergency, it is unwise for the states to exercise their religious independence as this can result in potentially different fatwas and guidance; instead it would be better to have common guidance from a national authority.

Reassure the Rulers that this is only a temporary measure in this dire health situation that the nation is facing.

There must be strong political will to take any necessary measures even if they are unpopular, and face resistance, from the business community and the general public. It is better to err on the side of caution rather than to take half-measures that are ineffective.

We as a nation can overcome this challenge but we need to work together. Put aside our political, racial or religious differences as well as self-interest; work together as united Malaysians

Raja Jamaluddin is an FMT reader.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.