KUALA LUMPUR – March 19, 2020: The biggest and most modern bus terminal in Malaysia, the Integrated Southern Terminal (TBS) has 10 convenience stores but all ran out of hand sanitisers to sell yesterday.
“We had just restocked on Monday and now we only have anti-bacterial wipes. That probably won’t work against the virus though,” remarked a sales assistant at one store.
The crowd at TBS was large yesterday, despite the movement control order (MCO) having been enforced for 14 days until March 1.
There were long queues at the ticket counters and as seats were limited, many were forced to wait on the floor; some even slept on it. There were also those eating their takeaways at the dining area – a sight that contradicted the order.
“I’m taking my family back to our kampung in Ketereh. There’s not much to do here,” said Ahmad Rashid Shamsul who was sitting on the floor with his family of five.
Those manning the information desk said people had been swarming the terminal since Tuesday night, when the government announced that the order was to be enforced from the following day.
“They aren’t taking this seriously. TBS is not even equipped with thermometers let alone those modern screening facilities. People can be spreading the virus here and there’s no way to tell,” said a worried concierge.
Malaysia is currently battling the second wave of the outbreak after recording its first three cases on January 24.
While the authorities said the virus first hit the country on February 27, it was only two weeks ago – on March 3 – that a drastic infection spike occurred, with cases growing from 36. As of yesterday the total was 790.
On Tuesday, the country recorded its first two deaths.
But not all at TBS was there because they wanted to. Some, particularly university students, had no choice but to return to their hometowns due to supposedly ill-timed directives.
“We were told on Monday afternoon that we needed to vacate our hostels by Wednesday. It was so sudden,” said Amirul Amri Hasin, a vocational college student who had bought a ticket to Baling.
Prior to yesterday’s statement by the Education Ministry, higher education institutions did not have a standardised directive concerning the order; some forced students to vacate the campus while others ordered the opposite.
“Students who are still on campus, at rented homes or private accommodation must stay put in the premises, even if they have bought tickets to go home,” says the statement.
The police too caused an unwarranted confusion on Tuesday when it had to rescind an inter-state travel restriction a few hours after announcing it, as people started to throng police stations to get a permit to travel back to their hometowns.
Doctors, nurses and other medical frontliners have also been urging Malaysians to stay indoors, flooding social media with pictures of them clad in their infection prevention gears holding placards that read: “I stayed at work for you. You stay at home for us.”
Last night Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyddin Yassin too repeatedly implored Malaysians to stay indoors, stressing that failing to do so will foil the government’s effort to break the chain of infection.
“Its (the order) intention is not to allow you to return to your hometown, to attend kenduri, go shopping at the supermarket, or go for a walk in the park or go on vacation at a holiday destination.
“No, it is not. Its intention is for you ladies and gentlemen to stay at home; stay at home and protect yourself and your family. I plead with you, once again, just sit quietly at home,” he said.
Today however, such a laid-back attitude among Malaysians can be still be observed. A case in point was the crowd in Georgetown who came out in droves to shop at the Ayer Itam market.
The market was bustling with those looking to get their supplies to cook and those who wanted takeaways, causing traffic congestion.
The incident was made known by the Penang Island City Council after it released a video on social media showing enforcement officers using loudspeakers to urge people to stay at home and only go out if necessary.