Partial shutdown is best approach
As analysts, civil society activists, former senior civil servants, entrepreneurs, professionals and financial services advisers, a group representing a cross-section of our society, we welcome Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin’s March 16 announcement of the Movement Control Order to deal with the escalating Covid-19 crisis.
Without causing harm to innocent people, we support these measures that prevent, minimise or slow down a deadly virus’ spread, to “flatten the epidemic curve”. We note that the Prime Minister’s order is actually a “partial” shutdown, not a “lockdown” as widely thought.
The order focuses on social distancing and helps authorities in contact tracing and identifying people in contact with those infected, a crucial process to stop or at least slowdown and contain the highly-contagious virus.
The order enforces that for two weeks, from March 18 to March 31, and life as we know it comes to a standstill: schools, universities and private and government offices closed and only services essential to our daily lives are operational.
Malaysians are barred from travelling overseas and those returning will be on a two-week self-quarantine. Foreigners are barred from entering. Outdoor gatherings are banned.
It is different though with a lockdown, which is defined as “confining of prisoners to their cells” or “situation in which people are disallowed to enter or leave a building or area freely…”
If it had been a lockdown, it would mean a curfew that severely curtails movement like in Wuhan, China, the previous epicentre of Covid-19.
Therefore, we urge that the term “lockdown” not be unwittingly published or verbalised lest it confuses and causes unnecessary panic.
Unfortunately, some quarters have exploited the Covid-19 crisis. Certain malicious and mercenary writers and blogs with a hidden agenda and highly questionable integrity deliberately spread fake news and misinformation, sowing confusion, division and panic that may aggravate more strife and instability.
However, we are pleased that the government avoided a national lockdown as advocated by the well-meaning but misguided, who still pursue this idea.
Here’s why a national lockdown now is a bad idea. To win the Covid-19 war, it is not just about the economy although it is a major factor, especially for investors.
Sacrifices are necessary — economic and financial losses, hardship, inconveniences and even personal freedom are legitimate collateral damage in this war of the ages against a most dangerous virus.
This article was originally published on March 19, 2020 in The New Straits Times.