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NSC highest authority on Covid-19 & DBKL should know this

Businesses within a mall don't seem to know that a temperature check and a scan of the QR code at the mall's main entrance are sufficient.

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Written by Aziz Hassan

Recollections & Reflections

September 16, 2020.

FOR sure it wasn’t the first time a state or local authority had gone against the decision of a higher authority and although Kuala Lumpur City Hall or DBKL rescinded its decision that was a clear contradiction of the one made by the National Security Council on Thursday, it was a distraction that was unnecessary and unwelcomed for the simple reason that it added to the list of mixed messages which must be avoided at all costs at a time when the country is still grappling with the Covid-19 pandemic.

Instead, what the people and those in business want is clarity and the NSC decision made clear that all manner of eateries and convenience stores would be allowed to extend their operating hours from a midnight deadline to 2am. The decision, as announced by Senior Minister (Security) Ismail Sabri Yaakob, did not mention any exemption or that states and cities could apply discretion.

The way DBKL had issued a statement on its own decision suggested that it was one made by civil servants and herein lies another problem and one that again the country doesn’t need because it looked like a clear defiance of authority and a lack of knowledge about who is the higher authority. It’s not good for the country’s image too.

On matters concerning Covid-19 it’s the NSC, which is made up of several ministries and all agencies and departments that deal with national security and public safety, that has the last say. If civil servants are not aware of this, it doesn’t say much about the service in the first place.

A poor attempt to disguise the bungle by DBKL in contradicting the NSC

In announcing that KL will abide by the NSC decision, Federal Territories Minister Annuar Musa said he had discussed this with the mayor and thought that it would be best for DBKL to be in line with the NSC. He was to add that mayor Nor Hisham Ahmad Dahlan, whose tenure is to end soon, had expressed his concern for the financial impact suffered by businesses following restrictions imposed by the government to check the spread of the Covid-19 virus. That was precisely the reason stated by Ismail when making his announcement. So if Nor Hisham had the compassion to feel for the businesses concerned, how did the DBKL he heads come out with its statement? No matter how everyone felt about the contradictory DBKL decision, despite his best efforts, it was a poor attempt by Annuar at damage control.

Most decisions relating to the lockdown during this pandemic are gazetted and thus have legal basis but it’s a bit too much to expect Putrajaya to tick off a dissenting state, especially when it’s controlled by the opposition. For one that is under the same ruling party or alliance as the one controlling Putrajaya, it’s unimaginable to think that Putrajaya would hammer the knuckles of a state in public, so we will never know how federal truly feels in such a situation. Even if a state led by the opposition takes a different position from that decided by the NSC, what will Putrajaya do? And having such a slim majority in Parliament makes the Perikatan Nasional leadership very vulnerable. The threat of being shifted aside and out of power is real.

A month or two ago there was also a difference of opinions on allowing medical tourists in, with federal announcing a leeway to allow some in but the DAP-controlled Penang sounding upset that it wasn’t brought into the picture on this and decided to disallow these tourists in. Sarawak was another state which later took a different stance from Putrajaya because it had been getting a fair share of such tourists from Indonesia, which has the second highest number of infections in Asean behind the Philippines and with daily cases averaging over 3,000 since a few weeks ago..

People know the risks but the new normal is much too abnormal for who are essentially social animals

Another downside since recent times has been of frontliners letting their guards down and this was a problem highlighted by none other than Health director-general Noor Hisham Abdullah. Fatigue resulting from having to deal with a pandemic that had its first infections nine months ago in Wuhan was talked about in the West much earlier and you can’t really blame anyone for this because the new normal is so abnormal for human beings who are in all intents and purposes social animals.

It’s not as if those who go against all advice to wear masks, distance themselves from others or avoid crowds and everything else are not aware of the risks and what harm their disobedience or recklessness can do to others but people usually have a limit on everything and often the bubble is bound to burst. That’s why people flock to the beaches in their thousands when the weather is hot and would not turn down an invite to a house party.

In our own backyard you see many restaurants, convenience stores and malls no longer adhering to the conditions set by the government as strict as they used to two or three months ago and who can blame them? Just imagine how long an employee will last in a job when all he or she is asked to do is stand outside or inside the door to check the temperature of a patron? Even if it’s on a rotation no one is likely to last more than a week in the job. So what we see now at most places is for patrons to do everything themselves – take the temperature reading, scan the My Sejahtera code, which is simple enough, and still write the temperature reading in the register.

Ismail did announce some weeks ago that a patron’s particulars entering a mall will only be recorded at the main entrance and not at the individual premises but this too has not been the case.

Oh, if you are a regular at the Chow Kit wet market on Jalan Raja Alang, which about four months ago was shut for a couple of weeks to be disinfected after infections were confirmed there, you would have realised how going in and out is so elementary they might as well tell the man at the desk who is to do the checks to go home.

Despite the thousands of inspections done daily throughout the country, it is clear that there are too many loose ends around in terms of enforcement but it’s hard to agree with any suggestion that we will eventually do much better, not when fatigue set in some time back..

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About the author

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Aziz Hassan

A journalist since July 1976 with both the English and Malaya press and was with two newspaper groups before The Mole. Does corporate report-writing and translation in his free time. Currently also a contributing weekly rugby columnist for the New Straits Times.