Covid-19 storm may be subsiding but another may be brewing

Imagine being a parent and telling your child when he is old enough that you had front-row seats to one of the most destructive global pandemics in the 21st century. This conversation will be the reality for many of us.

2020 started innocuously, with many around the world courageously declaring their New Year’s resolutions to stop smoking, quit drinking, lose weight or get that long-wanted degree. One’s next New Year’s resolution in about six months may probably revolve more around health.

In January, “Wuhan” was little more than a scary word, or a word that we kept seeing on our screens but never took seriously. A few months later, we took it seriously. Individuals were being hospitalised and lives were being lost, as it is even today.

It was no different in Malaysia; we dealt with it. There can be debate about whether the government’s response was adequate, although this is a debate that can apply to any country.

As of today, Malaysia has a total of about 8,445 positive cases of Covid-19. The movement control order (MCO), in place for about three months, has been our bulwark against the virus.

Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin said that the MCO will enter a “recovery phase” until Aug 31. Health director-general Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah has even announced that there won’t be any more daily Covid-19 updates beginning from next week.

Slowly, but surely, Malaysia and the world is opening shop. Businesses will resume at a cautious space. There is talk of border controls being lifted between Malaysia and our neighbour, Singapore.

Yes, the virus was deadly, but it unleashed a plethora of other issues as well. The treatment of refugees and migrant workers shouldn’t get the spotlight only during a global pandemic like this.

And then there is the sharing of unverified information, or fake news.
During a trying time such as the one we are in now, it is all the more imperative that information is accurate. To date, the police have opened 266 investigation papers on fake news. Even senior minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob was a victim. A post on social media claimed that he did not welcome Singaporeans into Malaysia.

Around the world, we are seeing a resurgent “Black lives matter” movement following the death of George Floyd in the US, although his death was preceded by the deaths of a few other African Americans a few months earlier.

Braving the risk of being infected with Covid-19, Americans are clamouring for greater police accountability and racial equality in the US criminal justice system. The effects of this movement were certainly being felt here when the Miss Universe Malaysia Organisation distanced itself from the Miss Malaysia-Universe 2017 winner after she remarked that African Americans “chose to be born as coloured (people) in America”.

These lowlights are merely proxies for discussions that we should have been having a long time ago. Covid-19 put a hiatus to discussions about Malaysia’s political future; it has come to the surface now, with Anwar Ibrahim involved in much of these discussions.

Going forward, what do Malaysians want? What matters to them? A few concerns may come to mind: the treatment of migrant workers, the capabilities of our health infrastructure and how we treat Malaysians or residents who are different from us. That includes Africans living in Malaysia, a problem rarely talked about.

At the micro level, 2020 will provide us a huge repertoire for reflection. The things that we took for granted, even travelling, are now luxuries even for the wealthy. A trip to the supermarket is about as good as it gets in the Covid-19 age.

Covid-19 is not the first time in human history the world has been hit with a pandemic, but it is the first time those of us living in this era have experienced a disease on a scale like this.

Surely, Covid-19 will have to re-orient our priorities, regardless of whether we are swept by a second wave in the future.

2020 has exposed debates that hit home for almost everyone worldwide. No matter the level of politicking, Malaysians will want a government that can not only weather a health storm, but puts the interests of Malaysians, especially the marginalised, above the short-term goals of politicians.

The Covid-19 storm may soon be subsiding; one can only hope. Another storm may be brewing, one that demands greater political acumen.

Syed Imad Alatas is an FMT reader.

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

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