Two weeks on, but emergency not helping the pandemic

By and large, Malaysians have been obediently and responsibly adhering to the standard operating procedures and directives from the health authorities.

I have stated elsewhere that if we get infected, we have no one to blame but ourselves. If we are still not able to learn anything over the past year of the Covid-19 pandemic and take the necessary precautions, then God help us.

Senior Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob has a thankless task. The increasing number of ministers, lawmakers and their aides being tested positive is an indication that they have not been heeding his directive that “even VVIPs are not permitted to gather or hold meetings”.

Ismail has to seriously crack his whip. He must not compromise, even with his cabinet colleagues if they run afoul of the law. Spare no one the rod. Show everyone that you really mean business, Ismail.

Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin had declared on Jan 12 that the emergency was for the specific purpose of fighting the coronavirus as the situation has reached a critical point.

According to him, the “calm and stability” from the emergency would help spur the Covid-19 stricken economy.

Well and good. Whether we supported the emergency or not then, we all waited for some welcoming news about the pandemic.

Surely, the prime minister must have some grand plans ready (or so we thought) to wipe out the pandemic that warrants the unprecedented and serious act of staging a national emergency. (Seriously, I have not heard of any other country declaring an emergency to fight the pandemic. Have you?

Two weeks in, we didn’t hear any good news from the prime minister. Instead, the pandemic has got worse each passing day, with record-breaking numbers of positive cases and deaths taking place all over the country.

The recent statement from Health Ministry director-general Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah that “the Health Ministry has done its best, yet the situation is not getting any better” was also of no comfort.Then, the complaints voiced by doctors on the frontline that they were forced to work very long hours due to the shortage of medical staff, plus the lack of personal protective equipment in public hospitals, are also worrying.

We must ask where the billions allocated in Budget 2021 to fight the pandemic are and how has the money been spent so far. Is the government taking its time in dispensing the necessary funds to the health authorities? In this case, there is no time to lose.

Health experts have long implored the government to allocate more people to assist the Health Ministry with contact tracing.

Unless this is expedited, they say the Covid-19 pandemic will only worsen.

Why is the government not listening to these health experts? It is clear that these extra hands are needed urgently.

Muhyiddin must set his priorities right. Why spend RM35 million to build three community halls in Pagoh, Johor, now? The money can be used to hire thousands to assist in contact tracing. And who needs community halls at this time?

There are many more questions the prime minister has to answer. We have heard enough of his repeated assurance that the emergency will open more doors for the government to fight the pandemic.

I must ask. Two weeks in, Mr Prime Minister, what doors have been opened? If certain doors have been opened, tell us what they were. Perhaps the worsening situation is an indication that the so-called doors are totally ineffective.

I do not think declaring an emergency is necessary to compel more hotels to allow their premises to be used as quarantine centres. That could easily be resolved by negotiating with the cooperative hoteliers in the country. Even budget hotels are more than happy to participate as quarantine centres.

From public feedback, it is quite clear that the majority of Malaysians lack confidence in this government to tackle the pandemic.

It is also apparent that many Malaysians are not in favour of the emergency. Their main worry is the likelihood of power abuse linked to it.

Not surprisingly, opposition MPs have initiated plans to appeal to the Yang di-Pertuan Agong to lift the emergency. The Sarawak government has also discussed such an appeal to the king to lift the emergency in the state.

With due respect to the prime minister, I believe this is a task too monumental for him to handle. The political polemics within his Perikatan Nasional coalition, plus the little support from tired and weary Malaysians, will not put Muhyiddin in the right frame of mind to govern effectively.

Perhaps, it’s time for the prime minister to do the honourable thing – make a graceful emergency exit.