Brace for a long winter as Covid-19 stalks us

So, two Malaysians have died because of the Covid-19 infection. I had hoped no one would die but, sadly, it has happened.

Health Minister Dr Adham Baba, in announcing the deaths yesterday, said a 60-year-old pastor with a history of chronic illness died in Sarawak while another man, aged 34, died in Johor. The latter was one of the 16,000 people who had attended the Sri Petaling Mosque tabligh convention at the end of last month.

What is frightening is that the 34-year-old did not have any pre-existing condition. All this while, we have been told by experts that the old and those with medical conditions are the most vulnerable.

Adham also said there were 120 new cases yesterday, taking the total to 673. Of the new cases, 95 are connected to the Sri Petaling mosque attendees. As of yesterday, 428 of those with Covid-19 had been at the tabligh convention.

This is very worrying. Tracing all of those who attended will be a problem. It is imperative that the attendees and those who came into contact with them get themselves checked.

There is no running away from the fact that the number of cases will exceed 1,000 in the next few days and I expect an exponential rise in the coming weeks. There is also the strong possibility that we will see more deaths caused by the new coronavirus.

It therefore becomes crucial that everyone follows the movement control order issued by the government, apart from observing personal hygiene.

The two-week partial lockdown, which takes effect today, is good as it will force people not to gather in numbers.

However, the intention behind this will be defeated if people rush to supermarkets and other stores to buy food or hoard up on foodstuff and other essentials. Panic buying means you will end up in a crowd of people, touching objects others have touched and coming into very close contact with others, even breathing down their backs as you queue. And that is dangerous.

There is no need for panic buying as the shops and supermarkets selling foodstuff will be open throughout the partial lockdown period. We should not lose our balance, our sanity.

If everyone queues properly and goes at different times, there will be less chances of getting infected. Perhaps it is time to order goods online as some supermarkets already have this service.

Everyone has to play their role, including the opposition.

That is why I was shocked to read yesterday that the menteris besar and chief ministers of Kedah, Selangor, Penang, Negeri Sembilan and Sabah – all in the opposition – had not been invited for a meeting with the prime minister over Covid-19 containment measures when the chief executives of Perikatan Nasional states had been invited.

This is certainly no time to play politics.

Last night Chief Secretary to the Government Mohd Zuki Ali accepted the blame for not inviting them, and apologised. Let’s hope it was indeed an oversight.

The present situation can be considered a national emergency. Many more people are likely to be infected, and even die. This is a time when all Malaysian leaders – regardless of political affiliations or race or religion – must work together to defeat the disease.

Whether we like it or not, winter is here; and the Lannisters and Targaryens must learn to work together. And all of us have to be part of the Night’s Watch.

Not only will people die, lives and lifestyles will be destroyed by the Covid-19 pandemic. The world economy, not just Malaysia’s, is going to take a humungous hit and it will be a few years before it recovers.

In the meantime, many people are likely to lose their jobs – either temporarily or permanently. Those who have taken loans to buy houses or cars are going to have a tough time making repayments if they are out of jobs.

We must understand that not everyone has RM2 million in pocket money or condominium units stuffed with jewellery, handbags and loads and loads of cash.

The only workers who will come out of this with hardly a scratch will be the government servants, as their employment is guaranteed – unless they commit a crime and are found guilty.

Private sector employees will suffer the most and the government must be prepared to tackle the fallout from this sector. It will be one gargantuan task. And that is why everyone should be recruited to help restore the nation to normalcy; that is why all of us have to cooperate with the government and make this work.

The government’s movement control order ends on March 31. I do not think the problem will be over by then, not by a long chalk. The reverberations of the Covid-19 attack will linger for several years.

Malaysians, therefore, have to brace for a long winter. We are not facing the White Walkers but rather a submicroscopic entity that is often thought of as non-living: an enemy we cannot see with the naked eye.

And that makes it even more dangerous.

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