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Sunday, May 9, 2021

Stop flip-flopping over SOPs with firm new rules

 

From Hafiz Hassan

After yet another round of flip-flopping that is increasingly blurring the lines when talking about the movement control order (MCO), Conditional MCO or Recovery MCO, it’s time to move away from the current form of regulations to control the pandemic.

It’s time for regulations made under the Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases Act to be more specific in its provisions so that SOPs do not change in a matter of days, if not hours.

The regulations in other Commonwealth jurisdictions offer a model on which our regulations can be set. The new regulations can be divided into four main parts:

  • Part I: Preliminary (Commencement; application; definition);
  • Part II: Restrictions on individuals (Restriction on movement and social gatherings);
  • Part III: Restrictions on premises and businesses; and,
  • Part IV: Miscellaneous (includes offences).

Part II should start with the basic restriction that every person must not leave his place of residence or where he is living without a reasonable excuse.

“Reasonable excuses” may include:

  • to obtain basic necessities, including food and medical supplies for those in the same place of residence (including any pets or animals in the household) and supplies for essential upkeep, maintenance and functioning of the residence, or to withdraw cash;
  • to exercise, either alone or with other members of the household;
  • to seek medical assistance;
  • to provide care or assistance to a vulnerable person, or to provide emergency assistance;
  • to donate blood;
  • to travel for the purposes of work;
  • to attend a funeral;
  • to fulfil a legal obligation, including attending court or satisfying bail conditions, or to participate in legal proceedings;
  • to access essential services;
  • in relation to children who live in the same residence to bring a child to any of the child’s grandparents or a childcare centre for the care of the child and back to his/her residence;
  • in relation to children who do not live in the same residence to continue existing arrangements for access and contact with parents and siblings; and,
  • to move house, where reasonably necessary.

The list need not be exhaustive but it should be able to strike a balance between lives and livelihoods.

This part should include the prohibition that no person must permit any other individual to enter his place of residence for any reason other than that permitted under the regulations (which may be specified).

It should also include a prohibition on social gatherings, indoors or outdoors, between persons not living in the same place of residence. This should address medical experts’ fears that social gatherings, large or small, may include an unwelcome asymptomatic person.

The above is basically a stay-at-home regulation or order, unless movement is permitted by the regulations.

Such permission would allow, for example, dine-ins at restaurants and outdoor recreational activities but only among persons living in the same residence or households and limited to five persons.

Again, this rule should strike a balance between lives and livelihoods.

Part III should provide for closure of premises unless otherwise permitted by the regulations. It should then provide for permitted businesses to operate or carry out business, incorporating SOPs laid down by the National Security Council.

As such, the SOPs will have the force of the law and the country will no longer be a country of SOPs.

Part III should include work-from-home as the new normal, unless otherwise permitted to work at permitted premises.

The regulations may include a schedule of essential services and list of permitted businesses.

Commonwealth countries such as Australia and New Zealand have shown how legislation or the law has come to be utilised and enforced to combat the pandemic to great effect.

It is no coincidence that both are among the countries to have successfully contained the spread of the disease.

Let’s use the law to its full effect and flatten the curve. Let’s have a new set of regulations. - FMT

The views expressed are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of MMKtT.

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