The vulnerable are less equipped to fend for themselves due to the economic and other obstacles they must face, Mustafa K Anuar writes.
In the government’s effort to relax and eventually exit from the movement control order, it is crucial that Malaysians seriously take up the responsibility of adhering closely to standard operating procedures to stay safe.
This is especially so because the coronavirus is pervasive in its spread and, in the absence of a vaccine, concerted containment of the virulent virus is the best option.
Moreover, there is a danger in normalising Covid-19 if Malaysians take things for granted and become lackadaisical.
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Hence, Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin’s call upon communities to step up in the fight against the virus is in the right direction.
It is envisaged that the burden on health frontline staff and the strain on government’s resources would be lessened considerably if the communities take up the gauntlet.
What do we mean by “communities” here? It may take the forms of residents’ associations, kampongs, religious or cultural communities, ethnic communities, professional communities, new villages, gated communities, the business community, the vulnerable, etc.
But given the nature of the menacing virus, ie it defies ethnic, cultural, religious, territorial and other man-made divisions, it doesn’t matter where you are at – for it attacks the human race.
There is bound to be a criss-crossing between the communities in this fight against the pandemic, even if only out of sheer health and safety expediency.
We are in this fight together, no matter how potent the politics of race and religion being peddled by certain politicians can be in our society.
The dangers of the coronavirus and the importance of the standard operating procedures must be effectively communicated to these communities, so that there is a common sense of purpose and of togetherness.
It is only after a convergence of concerns and interests between the government and the people is made more visible that the latter would be energised to work towards this common goal as vital stakeholders.
People who are inclined to breach the movement control order may be discouraged to do so, especially if they eventually realise that the punishment meted out has good intentions for themselves and for all.
The sense of purpose is sharpened when violators of the movement control order are given equal punishment irrespective of their social status. To be sure, there is to be no double standards in enforcing the rule of law.
Freedom of expression is also crucial in empowering communities that are fighting against the pandemic. They must have the space to offer constructive criticisms pertaining to certain government policies that they think are inadequate or unjust in meeting the challenges of the pandemic.
Civil society criticism of the way the government recently handled undocumented migrant workers in the country, which exposed them to risk of infection, is one example. The government must be willing to accept criticisms and suggestions.
While there is wisdom and virtue in calling on ordinary Malaysians to be collectively responsible in dealing with the pandemic, certain communities may not, however, be able to partake effectively in this communal mission.
In particular, the vulnerable are less equipped to fend for themselves, due to the economic and other obstacles they must face. With putting food on the table becoming a perennial question, how can they ever think of buying hand sanitisers and face masks as personal protection?
Social distancing becomes a luxury in a cramped flat or a makeshift house where a big family has to share two tiny bedrooms.
A lack of basic amenities, such as piped water and a good sanitation system, still haunts some parts of the country. In Kelantan, for example, there are people who get muddy water from their water pipes.
These segments of society require help from the authorities, civil society groups and the corporate sector in the common goal of containing the virus.
Turning a blind eye to the vulnerable may eventually prove lethal, as the dangerous virus transgresses human divisions.