No surprise: MCO extended for another two weeks

Movement Control Order extended until 28 April 2020
PM Muhyiddin Yassin MCO
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AT - Alibaba

The prime minister Muhyiddin Yassin announced today the extension of the ongoing Movement Control Order (MCO) until 28 April 2020. This is the second time that the MCO has been extended since it was imposed on 18 March 2020.

Perhaps it wasn’t wholly unexpected. From the shock and disillusionment at the start of the MCO, people have adapted these past three weeks—from staying home and working from home, practising social distancing and good hygiene, shopping online, queuing up, and doing all sorts of crazy creative things. In this unprecedented time, people have found normalcy in (or at least have tried to)—not commuting, not shaking hands, not gathering, wearing a mask at all times, and stocking on hand sanitisers. We’re a little calmer. There’s less panic-buying. But truth be told, things will likely never be the same. And we, as individuals, may never be the same again.

Flattening the curve

Has the MCO helped “flatten the curve” of the spread of the COVID-19 disease? Yes, said the prime minister. It has reduced the spread of COVID-19 infections and it has helped stabilise the pressure on the healthcare system. Malaysia has managed to reduce the infection and transmission rate of COVID-19 to seven per cent, which is below the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) benchmark of 10 per cent. That aside, Malaysia’s mortality rate hovers at 1.6 per cent, which is below the global rate of 5.8 per cent.

Malaysia’s recovery rate is also encouraging, with 1,830 having recovered and been discharged to date. This translates to 43 percent of recoveries out of the total number of reported cases. Based on today’s tally, there are 220 recoveries against 118 new reported cases, the third time recoveries have outnumbered new cases in a day.

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Source: Ministry of Health

Health director-general Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah said today the peak of COVID-19 infections might already be over, citing the steady decline of positive cases over the past week. He said that the infective rate known as “R nought” or “R0” of the disease had noticeably diminished compared to before the MCO. Before the MCO, the R0 was 3.55. It is now 1. He expects to bring the R0 down to 0.9 by 14 April.

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Source: Ministry of Health

We may take this as encouraging results but there is still a crucial need to test adequately if not extensively to further identify infected individuals. This is crucial especially with cases not linked to any of the major clusters which cannot be contact-traced. The asymptomatic nature of the disease is also a challenge as people may not realise they are already infected and are unknowingly spreading the disease in their social circle. Noor Hisham added that public health experts have advised to consider three cycles of incubation of 14 days, which brings it to about six weeks, in order to control and break the chain of the disease.

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Long road ahead

This fact echoes the importance of social distancing and the MCO. The prime minister lamented that Malaysians should be prepared to endure the current situation for an extended period. The government has taken a staggered, soft approach in implementing the MCO. It would be a grave mistake to let our guard down at this juncture when it is still difficult to ascertain the real extent of the pandemic. In reality, we can expect the MCO to go on for months.

The upcoming holy month of Ramadan will be a different experience. People will not be able to shop at their favourite Ramadan bazaars or visit the mosque for terawih prayers. With Ramadan bazaars and markets closed, people will have to accept new, alternative ways such as e-bazaars as spearheaded by Grab and local state governments. And come Hari Raya Aidilfitri, people will not be able to “balik kampung” to their respective home towns as they usually do.

Schools will remain closed for the time being until the situation improves.

While the government has introduced various relief initiatives through its economic stimulus packages, businesses, the workforce and the economy will continue to be deeply impacted by COVID-19. Still, it is imperative that the pandemic is first overcome. Only then can the nation rebuild itself again.

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What do you think of the MCO extension? Leave your thoughts below.

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