New restrictions may inadvertently cause more infections

Transport services will end at 10pm under new restrictions that come into force on April 1. (Bernama pic)

The restrictions announced as part of the second phase of the Movement Control Order may be increasing the risk of Malaysians getting infected.

Reducing the number of operational hours of supermarkets and eateries means that the same number of people will now have to use the same number of supermarkets and eateries in fewer hours in a day.

The most rudimentary mathematics will show that this means that there will be more people in a crowded space than before – the exact opposite of what the MCO should be trying to achieve. The more crowded a space, the higher the risk of the infection spreading.

The same goes for public transport. Restricting the hours of public transport results in more people using the train at that time than before. Once again, this means a more crowded space, and a higher risk of infection spreading.

Transport restrictions will also make it more difficult for frontline health and essential service workers to get to work and back home. Without taxis or e-hailing services past 10pm, those on night shifts without their own transport will now not be able to move around.

Restricting food delivery to before 8pm will mathematically mean that as a whole, fewer people will be able to get food delivered to them and people who have to work past 8pm will not be able to purchase food for themselves.

People who work in food delivery services will now have fewer hours to operate, which means a reduction in their income.

While we appreciate the need for strict adherence to the MCO, there is a question as to whether arresting more people is helpful. Arresting more people will put a strain on the lockups and prisons and create overcrowding.

Rounding up homeless people and putting them in camps (especially against their will) creates a similar problem.

We understand that the trade-offs are very steep during crisis situations. We urge the government to consider the public health implications of any decision before implementing them, and manage all unintended consequences. These policies suggest that more planning and input from relevant experts is necessary before making such policy announcements.

We urge the government to consider adding a permanent public health presence in the National Security Council throughout the duration of this outbreak.

This is an edited version of a statement signed by Altaf Deviyati, Dr. Khor Swee Kheng, Nathaniel Tan, Dr. B. Priya Lakshmy, and Dr. Siti Noor Munirah Ibrahim.

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