We want to thank the government for putting in place some good and necessary measures to stem the spread of Covid-19 in Malaysia. Many areas will require clarification over the next few days. We recognise that this is not a lockdown, as we can still move about, but an intensifying of social distancing and restrictions on movement are critical.
What we hope will happen now is that Malaysians will respond to these measures in a responsible way. Sadly, what we see is a lot of irresponsible behaviour by many Malaysians both individually and as groups. Right now, Covid-19 is no longer our main enemy but rather irresponsible, ignorant and disbelieving Malaysians who are spreading the virus far and wide.
There are some things that Malaysians must not do right now in the face of the closure of businesses, government departments and schools.
Stop travelling: Don’t balik kampung or plan a local holiday
I see many Malaysians already planning to travel to their parents’ home or planning a holiday within Malaysia with their children or friends. Any travelling right now would only enhance the spread of the virus and damage the measures that the government has put in place. Going back to our kampung will only bring the virus to older people in the villages who are at higher risk of dying. Please, please also stop all these salams, cium tangan and the hugging behaviour that is so high-risk. We need to be responsible, to stay at home and only take excursions which are necessary. This does not mean that we cannot keep fit by walking in our neighbourhood or parks.
Stop panic buying and hoarding
The crowds yesterday and today involved in panic buying at supermarkets, groceries and other shops are committing a dangerous activity. There are long queues of people with trolleys even before the supermarket opens. There’s no need to stock up on food as supplies will not run out. But panic buying brings together many individuals in a close group and defeats the purpose of social distancing. This is a high-risk activity and increases your chance of getting the virus. It should be avoided. Supermarkets should restrict the numbers that enter, enforce one to two-metre social distancing and limit the amount that can be bought by each family. Remember also that hoarding and buying excessively will mean that others will not get access to supplies in the short term.
Stop all meetings and gatherings
Remember that meeting in small, intimate groups many be more hazardous than doing so in large groups. No group size is safe. Stop planning or having any physical prayer meetings, social gatherings, makan outings or group outings for any activities. Weddings should be cancelled or restricted to family members. Funerals should be limited to immediate family. Please, please use social media and the internet to communicate and keep in touch. You can have virtual activities and parties. Even eating out should be limited to essential needs with maximum social distancing possible. We must learn from China, which has transformed eating out (social-distancing-eating-out) and grown extensively Covid-19-safe take-away and food delivery services.
For those who are still unconvinced about what is happening locally, please take a look at this graph which shows the growth of Covid-19 in Malaysia in comparison to Singapore where it is in control and Australia which may also be in the same direction that we are going.
The graph shows the change in our epidemic since we reached 100 cases. You can see the enormous exponential growth (i.e. unrestricted growth) in our country. We expect that the virus is now spreading extensively in the community and we have thousands of cases. We can expect to start seeing a wave of seriously ill persons in the next two to four weeks and a wave of deaths in the weeks following that.
For social distancing to work, we must stop travelling and moving about and gathering in the country as well as in our cities and towns, villages and neighbourhoods.
While these are some of the things that we should not do, there are many things that Malaysians can do. This is the time to work together and support each other as a community.
Please give financial support to those affected
Now is the time to work together and share our resources with the poor or those who will be hard hit by the loss of daily paid jobs. There are many who will not be able to work at this time because their businesses are shut down. Some are daily paid individuals while others will be forced to take a leave of absence from work. Also remember the immigrants in our nation. While we wait for our government to introduce more subsidy systems, it is time for all Malaysians to rise to the challenge of supporting each other and sharing our wealth. I like the Canadian approach which is trying to move people from scaremongering to caremongering. I appeal to those of us with the technical capability to set up online support groups. We can all identify those in our immediate communities that are in need or hard hit and then organise among ourselves funding for them. What poor or daily paid people need at this time is cash.
Please support those on the front line, especially healthcare professionals
At this time, there will be those who need to work, especially healthcare professionals, those in emergency services and those who maintain our essential goods supplies like groceries. Please remember them and see how we can support them. It is time for friends, neighbours and families to lend a hand to these individuals. They may need essential childcare or food deliveries. We should establish support systems that are Covid-19-safe. If they cannot work due to child or family care needs, we will all suffer.
A plea to rich Malaysians, private hospitals and telcos
Finally, a plea to those who are very rich in our country. You cannot take your wealth with you when you die and you have more than you could ever spend on yourself and your family. Kindly consider sharing at this time with the community, your fellow Malaysians. Share with the poor and those who will be hard hit by job closures, but also remember the public health services. Our public health services have been chronically underfunded for more than 30 years and are in serious need of financial injection to develop intensive care services and buy personal protective equipment, essential monitoring equipment for ill patients, etc.
Make large contributions to the health ministry that will be able to dramatically turn around this epidemic, as they are currently still very short of resources despite what is said publicly. Also, use all your business and friend contacts to enable us to get the items we need to deal with this epidemic, especially from China. We need to also support the many private general practitioners on the ground that lack basic protective equipment including masks. If health professionals and the health service is overwhelmed and crumbles, there will be no one to support us if we get ill.
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To private hospitals I would say: this is not the time to make money. Charge the bare minimum rates (break-even) for specialist out-patient and in-patient care. It is time for the private sector to absorb much of the non-Covid-19 healthcare needs to allow the government hospitals to concentrate on the huge wave of Covid-19 patients that will soon come their way.
To the telcos in Malaysia, please consider doing what many responsible telcos have done overseas, that is to make the internet available and free to everyone. At this time, effective communication is vital and must not be hampered by payments. Children and university students at home will need good bandwidth to enable them to continue studying.
All of you rich Malaysians, private hospitals and telcos will win not just our goodwill but also our prayers and blessings, as your actions will save many lives. As Joey Wat, CEO of Yum China Holdings, said in an recent interview with CNN on the virus: “Every great company has a soul inside. Of course we need to learn to make money (but) at the same time, in a moment like this, we need to learn how not to make money sometimes.”
Covid-19 shows us that we all are Malaysians, not divided by ethnic, religious, cultural or economic differences. We will sink or swim together as the virus does not differentiate between us. It is time to show the virus that we are not our own enemy. It is time to show the world that we have the discipline of the South Koreans to maintain strict social distancing, the love of the Canadians to care for each other and courage of the Italians in the face of this adversity.
Our prayers go out to all Malaysians in this time and remember three things: social distancing, social distancing, social distancing.
Dr Amar-Singh HSS is a senior consultant paediatrician.
The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.