COVID-19: Why was zoning not done in Malaysia?

COVID-19: Why was zoning not done in Malaysia?

It was just a matter of time that the Covid-19 wave hit our shores with a bang. The government had no choice but to make some tough choices and enforced the movement control order (MCO).

Unfortunately, the order fell short of spelling the details on how to execute the mechanics of movement control in the early phase. It caused an immediate panic among people.

Almost every supermarket, convenient shop and grocery was packed to the brim as people were worried that essential supplies may run out fast.

The government clearly failed to anticipate the level of anxiety and worry of the public in reaction to the MCO.

The damage was most likely already done in the first 24 hours of making the initial announcement before the order came into effect which was almost 48 hours later!

All shopping points by default became a hotspot to spread the virus.

The heightened level of activity and touch points would have increased multiple folds within the short time.

Pharmacies were practically ambushed as almost everybody wanted to buy face mask and hand sanitizers, another potential place for the virus to spread.

And not surprisingly, thousands made a bad choice by deciding to leave for their ‘kampung’ as though a 14-day holiday has been declared. Bus and train stations were packed.

And despite the order enforced, some people are just still stubborn as a mule. They moved freely and have no or little worry about the seriousness of the crisis the nation and the world is facing.

Where did the government go wrong in the early phase? Perhaps, on many fronts:

– Lack of coordination among the various departments, agencies and even ministries.

– No clear punitive measures to be taken against those who flout the order.

– Guidelines for those services that were allowed to operate like fast foods, 24-hours restaurants, private clinics, pharmacies and convenient stores.

— Inadequate information dissemination centres.

Failure to educate the general public on the virulent nature of the virus.

– The possible gravity or projected scenario if the order is not adhered to.

– Did not proactively engage the help of various non-governmental organisations.

There were just too many questions that were not anticipated.

The answers were only forthcoming or trickled in when a problem surfaced. Which are too late indeed.

Piecemeal solutions are nothing short of mere firefighting and that is not going to arrest the spread of the virus locally expeditiously.

‘Zoning’

The first thing the government should have done was to immediately zone each state, district and town and limit the movement right away without giving a window period for people to leave town and move freely.

It defies logic that while the government wanted to impose the MCO, it gave ample time for free movement throughout the country.

The initial phase is the most critical and should have been stricter, bordering a near curfew or lockdown in each zone.

All agencies especially the police and the armed forces should have been brought in to seal all zones in the first 24 hours to contain the virus locally if there is any in each zone.

A total 24-hour lockdown should have been done. And thereafter, the government could have gone on the ‘relaxation’ exercise and enforce the MCO.

It could have achieved more mileage on many fronts. People would have been ‘shocked and jolted’ instantaneously on the gravity of the crisis and the MCO would have been far more effective.

Unfortunately, the reverse is being implemented. Everything became advisory before and even immediately advancing the MCO announcement. In essence we could have landed ourselves into creating thousands of clusters spread all over the nation.

I hope I am wrong, as no one would want to see an ‘explosive’ outbreak of COVID-19 in Malaysia but on the hindsight, there is apprehension on that possibility.

Bringing in the army may be a good idea but as mentioned earlier the major ‘damage’ might have already been done in the initial phases.

Last but not least, let us all pray that the crisis is over sooner than later.

Narinder Pal Singh is a veteran political observer and a practising pharmacist


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