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Sunday, January 31, 2021

We need leadership in our war against Covid-19

 


On Jan 25, 2020, the first Covid-19 cases were reported in Malaysia. Three Chinese nationals who entered Malaysia were infected by close contact with an individual in Singapore.

Many things have happened in the past year since the virus was first detected in Malaysia. We had instances of no new cases in February 2020 and we had a period in which it would seem that we had the pandemic under control and we appeared to be on the road to recovery.

But all that is in the past. On Jan 30 this year, 5,725 new cases were reported with more than 3,000 in the state of Selangor alone. The total number of cases in the country now stands at more than 200,000 with tragically, over 700 deaths.

The numbers, it would appear, keep rising. Districts in almost all parts of the country are in the red zone. It would seem that we have lost control of the pandemic. The mood around the country is sombre.

More than two weeks ago, the government announced a second movement control order for certain states, which was later extended to all states except Sarawak. But this "MCO 2.0" has failed to bring down the numbers.

Even the proclamation of emergency, which gave wide powers to the government through an Emergency Ordinance has had little effect. The only executive action via the ordinance thus far is to suspend Parliament and the state legislative assemblies.

The people look to the government to take them through these troubled and trying times. But unfortunately, leadership in the government is sorely lacking.

We have not seen any concrete action plan from the government in order to bring the virus under control. It would appear that the government’s plan would be to "ride the wave" and hope that things improve once the vaccine is available in Malaysia.

But if the government cannot bring the virus under control, it could have shown leadership in other aspects. The MCO 2.0, though much looser than the first MCO in the first half of 2020, disproportionately impacts the lower-income groups. 

Late laptops

Many have called for more assistance to be provided to lessen the impact of the lockdown, but the much-awaited announcement from the prime minister largely contained reiteration of initiatives announced during the Budget 2021 speech. 

Even the cash aid assistance via Bantuan Prihatin Nasional which was supposedly expedited reached many Malaysians later than the announced dates.

The Education Ministry, for example, could have provided solutions on how to ensure schoolchildren would be able to learn despite the closure of schools. Yet all over social media and the news, we read of the struggle of ordinary Malaysians having to find extraordinary ways just to attend online classes.

The government could have provided laptops or gadgets to B40 children. Yet, the one initiative announced during the Budget 2021 speech of providing 150,000 laptops will only reach families in February.

One wonders whether the RM40 million allocated for the rebranded Special Affairs Department could be used to assist the underprivileged instead.

Thus, it falls on opposition politicians, such as Muar MP Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman and Bukit Mertajam MP Steven Sim, to crowdsource funds to provide laptops and gadgets in their constituencies. 

Ordinary Malaysians, like philanthropist Ebit Lew and others, had to also step up to fill in for the failures of the government to provide access to education.

Yes, we are indeed at war with individual forces. A virus that does not discriminate against race, religion or social status. A worldwide problem that has completely changed modern life as we know it.

But in any war, leadership is crucial. If the government does not start to provide leadership in this crisis, we may take that much longer to win this war.


SYAHREDZAN JOHAN is a civil liberties lawyer and political secretary to Iskandar Puteri MP Lim Kit Siang. - Mkini

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of MMKtT.

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