The pandemic puts spirit of M'sian solidarity to the test - Commander S THAYAPARAN (Retired) Royal Malaysian Navy
Wednesday, March 18, 2020
Malaysiakini : "This is the defining global health crisis of our time 'which will test' the amazing spirit of human solidarity." - Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO director-general
| The Covid-19 pandemic and the latest movement control order should be
a time when Malaysians come together instead of engaging in petty
partisan bickering. Instead, social media is awash with negative spiels
about the state’s reaction to the pandemic.
meanwhile, has to give this new government the benefit of the doubt.
Ordinarily, this would be difficult, especially since the way that this
government was formed and the underlying ideology behind it.
The recent meeting where five pro-Pakatan Harapan state governments were excluded
from a Perikatan Nasional (PN) government meeting of how to coordinate
enforcement of the movement control order is an example of how not to
handle a pandemic and is indicative of why a certain section of Malaysia
is distrustful of this present government. In typical Malaysian
fashion, a segment of the polity, as well as the political apparatus,
have been racialising this pandemic and the government’s response to it.
This is not the time to indulge in such posturing but instead, find
ways in which the rakyat can contribute productively to flattening the
curve and assisting the state in coming to grips with this pandemic.
some argue that Malaysia is not doing enough, some are arguing about
the efficacy of the methods taken so far. While Europe is going into a
partial shutdown and the US is bracing for further more intrusive – in
daily life – methods of containing the virus, Malaysia’s “game plan” is
not as extreme. This should not be dismissed as ineffective.
in mind that this is also a test run for further stringent methods that
could come into play depending on how this pandemic develops. I would
hope the government and the public use this opportunity as a means to
develop trust by asking and transparently answering questions in case
more extreme measures need to be considered. How PN is going to develop
trust when it behaves in a partisan manner is the big question and most
probably going to exacerbate the situation further.
Health Organization (WHO) has said that the most effective way to
contain the virus and save lives is by testing and that: "Once again,
our key message is - test, test, test. This is a serious disease.
have seen a rapid escalation in social distancing measures, like
closing schools and cancelling sporting events and other gatherings. But
we haven't seen an urgent enough escalation in testing, isolation and
contact tracing, which is the backbone of the Covid-19 response."
the state should aggressively carry on with its testing and attempt to
heed the experience of countries like China and Korea who have managed
to – for the time at least – to contain this pandemic.
Constructive criticism in the form of Malaysian Medical Association president Dr N Ganabaskaran (photo) on the National Disaster Management Agency (Nadma) is the kind of feedback that the public and the state need.
had said that Nadma could do more with its broad powers, including
roping in the security forces, to help the Health Ministry, which had
limited powers. Other ministries also did not seem to know their roles
in managing the health crisis, and certain ministries continued to hold
large gatherings despite a directive by the prime minister against doing
Ganabaskaran said Nadma should assist the Health Ministry to
screen the 14,500 Malaysians who participated in a mass mosque
gathering that has been linked to numerous cases now, “even if it is to
mobilise the army”.
What rational Malaysians should be doing is
seeing how they can adapt to such measures instead of continuously
finding ways to demonstrate their displeasure at the current
For the next two weeks, there will be disruptions.
There will be questions that need to be answered about the scope of this
order and how this movement control order affects various industries
and services. Therefore, it makes no sense that the federal government
stakeholders from a high-level meeting. Most damaging is that it
confirms the negative perception a certain segment of the population has
of this government.
Kudos to former health minister Dzulkefly Ahmad (photo)
who said: "This is nothing like a lockdown at all. A lockdown is when
you can't leave your home, there's a total curfew, you can't go out to
buy food." This is a direct refutation of claims that the movement
control order is a lockdown or a complete shutdown which have been
making the rounds on social media and the press and scaring people in
While the government has a major role to play, the
most important role, and one that should demonstrate who we are as a
country, is how the rakyat reacts to these measures. We should not use
this time to further retreat into our communal preoccupations. If the PN
government wants to play politics, then it is incumbent on the rakyat
to look out for each other.
This means acting responsibility while
also displaying concern for your fellow citizens. I was watching a news
broadcast online, and the two presenters were discussing the “panic
buying” that was going on. They made valid points that grocery outlets
would still be open and that people should not hoard food supplies and
staples but more importantly, to think about their fellow citizens who
do not have the means of stocking up and hoarding food.
some people do not have the access, for whatever reasons, to online
shopping and hence, grocery establishments remaining open and
well-stocked are vital to their survival during this period.
should not be an opportunity to highlight how Malaysians, despite
trumpeting our "Asian values" at every opportunity, are shallow and
selfish but rather an opportunity for Malaysians to demonstrate that we
are a mature society which places the welfare of the community over "I
got mine" attitudes in times of crisis. And of course, also indulging in
A very important way to demonstrate this is to
stop spreading false or unverified news on social media. There is ample
evidence that fake news, malicious news or unverified news cause civil
disorder and generally amps up feelings of desperation and paranoia.
People should be extremely circumspect in forwarding unverified news
items, and this is the time to practice self-control and check news
items you receive or pass on.
Also important is that this is not
the time to indulge in the worst excesses of anonymous postings. If you
disagree with a policy of the state, factually articulate this instead
of using your objections to score cheap political points and indulge in
racist or bigoted language.
the state should caution their operatives from making inflammatory
remarks which appeals to their political base. This is extremely
important because in times of crisis everyone needs to trust the state
and not merely your political base. If there is no trust, what we will
see is civil unrest fueled by fake news, the inflammatory words of
political operatives (from both sides of the divide) and the callousness
that permeates social media.
If the state is going to present
measures that will cause disruption, they should clearly articulate
their plans with plenty of opportunities for follow-up questions. What
the rakyat needs are transparency and the opportunity to discover how
such measures will affect their everyday lives, instead of living in
uncertainty and hearsay.
This is why it is important for the state
to inform the rakyat with constant updates and not merely make “big
announcements” which rattle an already uneasy public. The reality is
that there are people who will use this opportunity to cause mischief
just for the sake of causing mischief. What the state needs to do is to
constantly remind the rakyat that official sources are the best way to
get information for their health security. The state does this by making
routine statements and being transparent in their policies.
is the time when hopefully everyone realises that we are all in this
together. We are not simply the sum of our racial and religious identity
but rather, we are members of society which is facing a pandemic which
does not recognise race, class or creed.
At times like this, we
should be especially mindful of how we treat our fellow citizens. The
state needs to make every effort to ensure that the most marginalised of
communities gets the help it needs while ensuring that those of us, who
are in a better position, have access to information and supplies which
would make us less dependent on the state. This way, the state medical
infrastructure is not overburdened.
If ever there was a time to test the "Bangsa Malaysia" hypothesis, it is now.