In the fight to contain the spread of coronavirus, Malaysians have split into two camps: the risk-takers and the rule-followers.
On one side are carefree people who ignore public health measures; on the other are the anxious ones coming to grips with the reality of life with Covid-19.
What a depressing spectacle has been the effect of the recovery movement control order involving public transport and eating out.
Confusing government messaging has only exacerbated the disorder, almost as if a segment of people want the coronavirus to win. Some people think nothing bad will happen to them, while others have a gnawing feeling of anxiety.
If public spaces have been eerily silent over more than two months ago, life in recent days is bustling as much as it ever was.
It does not help that trains, buses and ferries that allow standing passengers are now operating at full capacity.
People refuse to space out, face away from each other and travel at staggered times.
Masked passengers on packed LRT and MRT trains, standing and seated close to strangers, might think they are invulnerable against the virus.
The operator, Rapid Rail Sdn Bhd, and the government have earned some waspish public scrutiny over the move to run full load.
But the company and commuters will carry on their merry way – as will the people, who have been swarming the open-air food joints.
A picture over social media of a crowded food court at Jalan 222 in Petaling Jaya, at about 10pm on June 10, illustrates the defiance shown by people eating out in droves.
The message from the incorrigible diners seemed to be, “the nasi lemak and sup tulang are delicious. I’ll do what I want.”
Compare that with the experience of Nazrin Mohamed, a social distancing follower, and his wife and son at a banana leaf restaurant in Petaling Jaya.
After the formalities of registration, temperature-taking and sanitising their hands, they were told only two were allowed per table.
His son had to sit at another table with a stranger. The restaurant was following health rules.
Said Nazrin: “There we were, a family of three, living under the same roof, travelling to the restaurant in the same car and having dinner separately in a restaurant.
“What about the waiter who was in close contact with us while laying our food on the table? A stranger can be up close to me but not my son?” asked Nazrin, who held that the standard operating procedure (SOP) needed review.
Then, there are supermarkets and wet markets where it is a free-for-all even with strict measures in place.
One wonders what the situation would be when night markets operate soon.
Now, consider this: Fifth Formers and Sixth Formers, who resume school on June 24, take the crammed LRT and end up distancing in their classrooms. Brilliant.
Questions also abound over police action against restaurant-bars for lack of physical distancing.
Darrel Pierre, the owner of Hangover Bar in Section 19, Petaling Jaya, accused the police of “redefining the law” following a raid on his outlet last Saturday.
In the raid, 33 people including Darrel, were slapped with compound notices of RM1,000 each for lack of social distancing.
Darrel claimed he had taken steps to ensure distancing and that some customers who were seated individually were also slapped with fines.
Still, people are generally terrible at assessing risk, proven especially true in these trying times.
Taking responsibility for the health of others comes up infrequently often in public discourse around matters like smoking and drink driving.
People who ignore public health guidelines could make it even tougher on doctors and other healthcare professionals trying to monitor and contain the virus.
While we are all trying to keep a sense of normality for ourselves and our families, the reasons that people give to resist distancing are often beyond rationality.
There is a belief that compliance will lead to a restriction of their freedom. That’s immature thinking.
So, at a time when every decision, each action, is analysed for signs of silliness or drivel, it might be time to pause and ask:
Will we later have regrets about how we acted?
The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.
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