Partnership with Malaysian heroes

April 7th, 2020
Frontliners consisting of doctors and nurses donning Personal Protective Equipment before entering a ward at Kuala Lumpur Hospital recently. PIC BY MOHAMAD SHAHRIL BADRI SAALI
Frontliners consisting of doctors and nurses donning Personal Protective Equipment before entering a ward at Kuala Lumpur Hospital recently. PIC BY MOHAMAD SHAHRIL BADRI SAALI

THIS year, World Health Day falls during a particularly solemn time, as we grapple with the worst pandemic in 100 years. Each day brings sobering news of tragedy and heartache. At the same time, the crisis has demonstrated the compassion and perseverance of our health professionals, and their heroic willingness to make personal sacrifices for the protection of our communities.

In 2020, World Health Day specifically honours and celebrates those on the front lines for keeping us healthy and safe, specifically nurses, and I join in paying tribute to them and their selfless commitment to protect us all.


During a recent visit to the United States, I spent a week in a hospital caring for a loved one (fortunately not afflicted with Covid-19). The hospital staff were compassionate, hardworking and knowledgeable. They brought a professional touch to their work, despite also having to care for a rising number of Covid-19 patients and recognising that the situation was growing more dire by the day.

I was in awe of their commitment, and also feared for their health and safety. These incredible women and men reminded me of the wonderful and caring nurses I have met throughout my time in Malaysia.

The US embassy has a long tradition of providing support, training and supplies to local hospitals, especially in Sabah and Sarawak. As ambassador, I have visited medical facilities all over the country and have always come away impressed with the dedication and commitment of Malaysia’s medical professionals. Now, more than ever, I am thinking of them and their families, and the enormous burden we have placed on them in this time of crisis.


Early in my assignment, I visited the Sibu Hospital at Segi University, where the US Naval Medical Research Centre-Asia funded a respiratory virus surveillance study. This joint project ran in collaboration with Duke University and Segi’s sister campuses in Singapore and China. By working with Malaysian partners, the programme trained local public health professionals to detect novel zoonotic viruses and reduce the impact of pneumonia.

In June 2018, I met Saraswathy Subramanian, who had recently culminated her 24-year nursing career when she became the Matron at Kuala Lipis General Hospital in Pahang, overseeing a team of about 1,000 nurses. Equally impressively, she raised three wonderful young women: one who currently serves as a medical officer working on the Covid-19 team at Segamat Hospital; one who is studying medicine at Universiti Malaysia Sarawak; and a third who is the first Malaysian woman to attend a US military academy.


Each year, Pacific Partnership is the largest multilateral humanitarian assistance and disaster preparedness exercise held in the region. In 2018, the exercise featured the USNS Mercy, a US Navy hospital ship that arrived in Port Klang to host medical exchanges and disaster relief training between US and Malaysian emergency preparedness personnel.

Today, the Mercy is pier side in Los Angeles, and the ship’s crew is now treating non-Covid-19 patients and freeing up LA hospitals to focus on addressing the pandemic.

When Pacific Partnership returned last year, the exercise involved more than 300 Malaysian and US personnel and featured more than two dozen medical engagements. I visited Sarawak General Hospital to observe a subject matter expert exchange between US Navy and Malaysian healthcare providers, who were working together to share insights into critical care and emergency screening.


We have been preparing for these challenges together
for years, and we should be thankful that our longstanding efforts have helped build both Malaysian and American capacity to respond to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The current pandemic is an important reminder of the critical importance of collaboration, not only within our communities, but around the world. We are truly all in this together. Our response to the challenges we face is strengthened by our close ties, both in these past exercises, and in our active cooperation today to combat the pandemic threat.

Our nurses, doctors and other health professionals are the heroes of this crisis. So are all those who are supporting their effort — especially their families and loved ones.

So around the globe on World Health Day today, we salute their commitment, and honour their courage

The writer is United States ambassador to Malaysia.

By Kamala Shirin Lakhdhir.

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Robots on pandemic frontlines

April 7th, 2020
Robots like this serve several hours a day at intersections in Shenzhen, China, to remind passing motorists to register passengers’ information via QR code on the robot, as well as take people’s temperature. PIC COURTESY OF UBTECH ROBOTICS
Robots like this serve several hours a day at intersections in Shenzhen, China, to remind passing motorists to register passengers’ information via QR code on the robot, as well as take people’s temperature. PIC COURTESY OF UBTECH ROBOTICS

WHAT’S worrying about the Covid-19 pandemic is how contagious the disease is, hence the need to practise social distancing.

However, for the frontliners, they still have to be in close contact with the Covid-19-positive patients, suspected individuals, as well as the general public when carrying out their duties, be it attending to sick patients or screening the suspects. It’s a big sacrifice on their part.

Close proximity with the patients is, therefore, unavoidable for the frontliners. The use of technology, in this case artificial intelligence (AI) robots, may alleviate some of the pressure on the frontliners.

A few countries like China, Italy and Australia have started to deploy AI robots in critical places like hospitals. China, which was the first to be hit by Covid-19, is now deploying robots in hospitals, schools, banks and road intersections.

The main reason for deploying these robots is that they, being machines, don’t get tired and sick, and can operate 24/7.

This is not to say that these robots, which we have probably seen in the hospitality and retail industry to serve patrons, are better than humans, but they are the perfect answer to the overwhelmed hospital systems.

One of the companies providing these AI robots is Shenzhen-based UBTECH Robotics, which had its robots deployed in several countries during the pandemic.

The robots are the Atris, Aimbot and Cruzr models.

These robots are being used at a Shenzhen hospital for treating Covid-19 patients. They were modified a bit from their retail and hospitality modules to perform tasks that can help frontline workers.

These include providing videoconferencing services between patients and doctors, monitoring the body temperatures of visitors and patients, and disinfecting designated areas in the hospital.

With these robots deployed, medical staff could focus on more critical areas of treating patients in serious condition.

Built with AI technology, these robots can make rounds in wards and be next to the patients, and using their camera and videoconferencing capability they can let doctors monitor patients remotely.

In China, for instance, the Cruzr robot can track the temperature of 200 people within a minute, and then notify medical staff if someone is infected with the coronavirus.

The same robot model has also been tested in Queensland, Australia, at the Princess Alexandra Hospital and the Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital to guide patients around the hospital and conduct surveys.

Besides China and Australia, Italy, which has the highest Covid-19 death toll, has started using robots to help doctors and nurses at the Circolo Hospital in Varese, a city in the northern Lombardy region, according to wire agencies.

The robot, called Tommy, helps frontliners in monitoring parameters from an equipment in the room, and relays the data to hospital staff. It has a touch-screen “face”, which allows patients to relay messages to doctors.

Use of the robot limits the direct contact doctors and nurses have with patients, hence, reducing the risk of virus transmission.

Meanwhile, as China progresses after being hit hard by the pandemic last month, Chinese authorities are now using robots to assist in public monitoring tasks.

For instance, at the school gates of two major middle schools, the Kunming No. 3 Middle School and Kunming Dianchi Middle School in Yunnan province, southwest of China, students returning from prolonged absence because of Covid-19 are now greeted by a robot instead of a human.

The Aimbot robot takes their temperature and checks if they have worn their face mask correctly. This helps school authorities with the monitoring of the students and reduces cross-infection risks. Aimbot can detect people’s temperature with 99 per cent accuracy up to 3.5m away using infrared technology.

They can also monitor the temperature of up to 15 people at once.

These robots also disinfect designated areas, including classrooms, cafeterias and hallways, as well as move around broadcasting coronavirus prevention tips.

Robots are also deployed to conduct health and safety checks. For example, staff from the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, which is one of the world’s largest banks, can have a temperature check in their cars before going into the ICBC Shenzhen office. Atris, the outdoor patrolling robot, is covering this job now.

These robots are also being used at the intersections of highways in Shenzhen. The Cruzr and Atris have taken the repetitive job of the police to remind drivers of vehicles to register passengers’ information and to take their temperature.

Using robots in healthcare is something new and can be expensive to implement, but the benefits are huge and can give a country an advantage in mitigating a pandemic like Covid-19 in a more organised manner.

The writer is Tech Editor of the ‘New Straits Times’ with 25 years of experience covering and writing technology stuff in the consumer, enterprise, telecommunications and emerging technology space..

By Izwan Ismail.

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Bracing for digital economy

April 7th, 2020
One sector which has also been badly shaken by Covid-19 is education. As a result of the lockdown measures, schools and universities are closed to break the chain of infections. - NSTP/ROHANIS SHUKRI.
One sector which has also been badly shaken by Covid-19 is education. As a result of the lockdown measures, schools and universities are closed to break the chain of infections. – NSTP/ROHANIS SHUKRI.

LETTERS: The Covid-19 virus has spread fear everywhere. China was the first to taste the bitter pill. It was a painful experience since the virus has no known cure and no approved vaccine. But, China, through its own ingenuity, has managed to tame the virus.

The city of Wuhan, the first epicentre of the pandemic, which was under total lockdown for two months, is now slowly returning to normal.

China’s recovery is the first good news for the global economy. The world economy has been going downhill since the spread. Those countries, which earlier dismissed the health risks posed by the virus, are now flocking to China for guidance.

Many sectors are badly affected by the economic fallout from the virus. The travel and tourism industry are among those which are badly hit. Many airlines are now asking for bailouts to save jobs. Hotels are also clamouring for government support.

Many are now rethinking how the public health systems can be better prepared to face future disruptions. Businesses are revisiting their business models to be more pandemic neutral.

One sector which has also been badly shaken by Covid-19 is education. As a result of the lockdown measures, schools and universities are closed to break the chain of infections. The move is logical since schools and universities are synonymous with large crowds. The education sector therefore has to devise new ways to conduct learning to avoid mass gathering and close contact.

What has become evident in the few weeks of the lockdown is that many creative ideas have come out of the universities. The universities in the country have been especially active in trying out various e-learning platforms without compromising on quality.

Their efforts are commendable. Many believe, with the brief experience, digital learning may soon become a new norm for the education sector. The much talked about Mass Open Online Courses (MOOCs), will soon become a reality.

The retail business has also witnessed greater deployment of digitalisation. Housewives, who have been used to the traditional way of buying, now have to learn to shop online. In fact, some big supermarkets are even expanding their drive-through sale to avoid big crowds.

Even selling cars is now moving to the online platform. Meetings are also no longer business as usual, not just for the business community, but also for families separated by the Movement Control Order. Online seminars and conferences may now become more prevalent. Event companies may have to redesign their business models.

There is no doubt that the demand for better Internet capacity will see an increase in the coming days. Already, some are experiencing hiccups in the service as the usage increases. Whatever it is, the nation’s digital literacy has improved significantly. We are now more ready for the digital economy.

Few would dispute the fact that much of the digital transformation is driven by the handphone. In fact, many are already owning smart mobile phones, which make it even easier for people to embrace digital living.

In some countries, smart phones have already been used by rural communities to support their farming business, especially marketing. Nevertheless, the rise in social media also has a share of the negative sides. Spreading fake news has become rampant at the time of the pandemic.

This practice has created unnecessary panic among the communities. Cyber crimes are also on the rise. Internet scams are becoming more common. What is certain from such developments is that Covid-19 has spurred a digital transformation worldwide.


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Addressing sexual harassment during MCO

April 7th, 2020
A case of sexual harassment has been brought to our attention, involving the use of vulgar slang by an enforcement officer at a checkpoint. -Pic for illustrations purposes only
A case of sexual harassment has been brought to our attention, involving the use of vulgar slang by an enforcement officer at a checkpoint. -Pic for illustrations purposes only

LETTERS: The Movement Control Order (MCO), which is aimed to reduce and restrict the spread of Covid-19, has also highlighted several issues – one of which has been the increase in sexist language over social media especially – but also much recently, a case of sexual harassment has been brought to our attention, involving the use of vulgar slang by an enforcement officer at a checkpoint.

While there is a huge sense of gratitude to all the frontliners in all sectors – health, hygiene, food aid, mental health aid, domestic violence support, the police and army – we also have to keep in mind that frontliners are human too, and will also sometimes crack under stress and react in anger and/or an upsetting manner.

However, there are limits in how people should react under duress, especially when they are in the position of power.

Authority tips the scales in favour of the police and the army, and thus they have the responsibility to ensure that the power is not abused.

The abuse of power in the sexual harassment case above has left the survivor extremely traumatised. Worst, the survivor is also afraid and unsure of how to make a report, under the unusual circumstances of the MCO.

In this case, AWAM would like to remind all parties that sexual harassment can occur anywhere and can be perpetrated by anyone.

Sexual harassment refers to an unwanted or unwelcome conduct that is sexual in nature, and may be committed physically, verbally, non-verbally, psychologically and/or visually, which can or may cause the person being harassed to feel humiliated, offended or threatened.

Today, it was reported that the IGP Tan Sri Abdul Hamid Bador had announced that he will take action against those who post videos or photographs of police officers stationed at checkpoints in a negative light.

AWAM would like ask survivors and friends of survivors of sexual harassment who might have taken photos to not post them online but instead to submit those photos as evidence when making a police report, or when you lodge your case with any NGOs you choose to work with.

AWAM is happy to work with the police in any way possible to ensure that such incidences as the above do not happen. AWAM would like to remind everyone that sexual harassment is wrong, even under the MCO and that you can reach out for help and support by calling our helpline at 016-237-4221 or emailing us at

In the meantime, AWAM has shared some tips on their website and socmed platforms for women who are alone when driving and shopping during the MCO, as a aid to ensure their personal safety against sexual harassment.


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MCO-linked domestic violence rises

April 7th, 2020
Residents of a flat near the Kuala Lumpur Wholesale Market looking out their window during the Movement Control Order. -NSTP/EZAIRI SHAMSUDIN/NSTP
Residents of a flat near the Kuala Lumpur Wholesale Market looking out their window during the Movement Control Order. -NSTP/EZAIRI SHAMSUDIN/NSTP
KUALA LUMPUR: AS the number of people being confined to their homes increases around the globe amid the Covid-19 pandemic, so does the number of domestic violence victims living with constant threat.

Malaysia has seen a spike in the number of domestic violence cases following the Movement Control Order (MCO), which was imposed since March 18. This is based on data gathered from the Women and Family Development Ministry and NGOs attending to domestic violence cases.

The ministry’s Talian Kasih hotline had seen a 57 per cent increase (or 1,893 calls) from women in distress up to March 26.

Its deputy minister, Datuk Siti Zailah Mohd Yusoff, said among the issues raised were financial constraints, marital problems and domestic violence.

She said while calls for aid would be channelled to the respective district welfare offices, the ministry works closely with counsellors, police and the relevant agencies in addressing reports of abuse.

“There is indeed a slight increase in (domestic violence) cases, largely due to stress (of abusive partners from) being confined to their homes. The situation is, however, still under control.

“We understand that being in a situation like this could trigger tension and stress. Some are hot-tempered, and they take it out on their wives. There are also cases where the husbands and children are victims,” she told the New Straits Times when contacted.


The spike in domestic violence amid the Covid-19 pandemic is not unique to Malaysia. In France, domestic violence increased by 36 per cent since the crisis began, prompting the government to pay for victims to stay in hotels and setting up pop-up counselling centres in shopping areas.

Australia saw a 75 per cent rise in Google searches for help and its government has allocated RM435 million for various support initiatives.

Siti Zailah said Malaysian authorities have tackled these cases whenever they are reported.

“If anyone feels that they are being abused or struggling with mental breakdowns, I urge you to call the Talian Kasih helpline to seek help.

“Action has been taken on all of the cases that we had received to date.”

Exact figures of domestic abuse from the ministry were not immediately available. According to its corporate communications department, the latest data would only be shared after the MCO was completed.

Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO) Advocacy and Communications officer Tan Heang-Lee said the organisation initially saw a slight decrease in hotline calls and WhatsApp enquiries on domestic abuse at the start of the MCO.

However, there was a 14 per cent spike in calls to the same hotline recently.

She said WAO received an average of 10.5 calls and enquiries per day between March 1 and 17. However, between March 18 and 31, it received reports of 12 cases daily.


Tan said domestic violence was about exerting power and control. During this crisis, isolation and concerns over health and finances could aggravate an abuser’s desire to exert power and control.

“Domestic violence survivors are at greater risk because they are trapped in the house all day with the abuser. It is also more dangerous for them to seek help, as the abuser may be monitoring their every move.”

Tan added that WAO received many calls from survivors, asking whether it was acceptable for them to escape during the MCO.

“When we receive such calls, we advise survivors on steps they can take to leave safely,” she said, adding that WAO always works with the police to rescue domestic violence survivors.

Tan said survivors who are unable to work during MCO might become more financially dependent on the abuser. The crisis impacts survivors who have left their abusers too.

“Among 20 former residents of WAO’s domestic violence shelter, 30 per cent were unable to work due to the MCO, 25 per cent were still looking for a job, while another five per cent had their salaries deducted due to the MCO.”

She urged the government to make more public service announcements about support services available for domestic violence survivors, even during the MCO. This will stress the fact that perpetrators can be penalised for their actions even during the pandemic.


Women’s Centre for Change (WCC) programme director Karen Lai Yu Lee said domestic violence was on the rise during the pandemic due to mounting economic, social and psychological pressure on families and communities.

WCC received 14 phone calls in the first week of the MCO (March 18 to 24) but that number increased to 36 cases in the second week (March 25 to 31)


Out of all of those phone calls, three cases were related to domestic abuse in the first week of the MCO. This figure increased to 11 cases in the second week.

She said people called up WCC to request for financial, food, grocery aid and a few people experiencing anxiety and loneliness due to the MCO.

“We anticipate that the numbers will go up in the coming weeks. The number of new domestic violence cases referred to us by the One-Stop Crisis Centres (OSCCs) of Penang hospitals also tripled, from two cases to six cases in the second week. This is a cause for concern.

“The (Women and Family Development Ministry) performance throughout the MCO period has been disappointing thus far, with one blunder after another. We hope there will be improvements in terms of concrete measures to empower women and children in the remaining two weeks of the MCO and beyond,” said Lai.

All Women’s Action Society (Awam) Programmess and Operations manager Nisha Sabanayagam said issues of domestic abuse, mental health and discrimination were exacerbated during the MCO due to the inability of survivors to socialise or leave their home freely.

“Before the MCO, survivors of gender-based violence could get help from neighbours, relatives, doctors and even the postmen. With the MCO, outside contact is minimised, for good reasons of course. But it does not take away the fact that survivors are at greater risk of abuse and violence.

“They are at a higher risk of spiralling into depression, thus becoming vulnerable to a different set of health issues. Depression can negatively impact one’s immune system. In this period of Covid-19, one’s immune system needs to be maintained at an optimal level.

“Being in such close proximity for an extended period of time allows the perpetrators to better monitor the survivors and prevent them from getting help.”

In the case of women who are separated from their husbands and are now forced to live in close quarters with their spouse, she said, this would open them up to physical, emotional and even sexual abuse.

“Not being able to seek medical help immediately could potentially lead to dire, even fatal consequences.”

Nisha said more efforts should be made to reach out to individuals and the grassroots. There was a need for more shelters at this time as most shelters were now functioning at full capacity.

She said since the MCO, Awam has received 11 phone calls with only one of them related to domestic violence. The other complaints were on rape and discrimination, divorce, mental health, relationship issues and the MCO.

Another NGO, Sisters in Islam, said it did not receive any complaints on domestic abuse on its Telenisa line.

Its communications officer Aleza Nadia Othman said the absence of complaints could be due to survivors being trapped by abusers.

By Tharanya Arumugam.

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Pets don’t spread Covid-19, says Vet Dept

April 7th, 2020
In a statement, it called on the public not to be alarmed as pets are not spreaders of Covid-19 infection. -STR/FAIZ ANUAR
In a statement, it called on the public not to be alarmed as pets are not spreaders of Covid-19 infection. -STR/FAIZ ANUAR

KUALA LUMPUR: Pets cannot spread Covid-19 to humans, the Veterinary Services Department clarified today.

In a statement, it called on the public not to be alarmed as pets are not spreaders of Covid-19 infection.

For now, pet owners are also not required to have their animal companions screened for the virus.

“Based on current scientific findings, while pets can contract Covid-19, it is not at a dangerous level as it only caused mild infection to the animals.

“The viral load is too small to be spread to humans,” the statement read.

The clarification was issued in response to news reports yesterday asking the public to avoid contact with pets as a precautionary measure against the infection, following cases of Covid-19 positive among cats and dogs.

Citing an article from the World Organisation for Animal Health or OIE (formerly the Office International des Epizooties) published this month, the department said there was no evidence to prove that pets played a role in the spread of the human disease or that they became sick.

The Veterinary Services of the Hong Kong Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China reported to OIE evidence that two dogs that had been infected with the Covid-19 virus following close exposure to owners who were sick with Covid-19.

The test,conducted by real time PCR (polymerise chain reaction) showed the presence of genetic material from Covid-19 virus.

However, the dog was not showing any clinical sign of the disease.

Experts from around the world have urged the public not to overreact to unverified scientific reports suggesting they might be at risk of contracting Covid-19 from cats.

By New Straits Times.

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The end is not nigh: It is up to you!

April 6th, 2020
A woman and a child wearing face masks walking past shut shops in Los Angeles, California, on Saturday. -AFP pic
A woman and a child wearing face masks walking past shut shops in Los Angeles, California, on Saturday. -AFP pic

MANY apocalyptic visions are being posted as the new coronavirus, Covid-19, causes devastation across the globe.

One relates to the origin of the phrase, The End of the World.

At this stage this is no certainty, although the deadly impact of the virus on life, jobs and the economy makes it seem like we are getting there.

Another vision is that this terrible virus is the visitation of God’s wrath on the conduct of human beings. This religious invocation, at its more optimistic, proclaims that if we do not reform we will perish which gives hope that if we did we might not.

The totally fatalistic teaches that we must succumb and not battle to survive against God’s wrath.

Things get deeply religious at this stage and it is dangerous ground to tread as those who consider themselves exclusively qualified to picture what they see do not want others to contradict it.

So it is best to leave them to their fate as the rest of humanity tries to use their ingenuity to stay alive and to reform their ways.

A number of countries are making a hash of it, unfortunately, putting them nearer the totally pessimistic fatalist vision.

In America we have staring at us where it has all gone wrong: President Donald Trump. A combination of incompetence and unadulterated lies, of blaming others and continuing with the bad old ways — and yet probably getting re-elected in November. Gone case.

In China we have the authoritarian system. It swiftly sweeps under the carpet a cover-up. Proceeds with little white lies in between to address the grave challenge with a cold efficiency no other country in the world can match.

All other countries fall in between, veering more towards a generally free and open system which reflects much of the way of the world we live in, but with sharp doses of imposition and control, such as lockdowns and social tracing.

In Italy and Spain, we see an initial bungling, resulting in great human tragedy. In the UK, until just recently, the authorities and society did not want to see all that went wrong in Italy and Spain.

Countries in Asia with ready authoritarianism in their democracies, when they could be called a democracy at all, have been able to introduce with greater speed controls on movements and social intercourse.

Even so, such disruptions do not sit easy among their peoples closer in the continuum to the freedoms in Europe and America than to acceptance of state impositions as in China.

There thus emerges the issue of social discipline and responsibility, how it is best engaged. Can we expect social distancing to be observed without contact tracing? Will lockdowns be adhered to without enforcement? Will there be collaboration and commitment to the common good in distressed times?

Let’s take Malaysia. There are many good people arranging food for the needy and protective equipment for front-liners treating the afflicted. But there are also people as in Kuala Lumpur supermarkets who shout at others not keeping their distance as they reach out to grab everything they can lay their hands on.

There are those on self-quarantine who think it does not include going out to join the queue for nasi kandar at a Mamak shop.

There are many who still flout the MCO, some not allowing their social life to be disturbed, others for the thrill of not getting caught, thinking it is all harmless fun.

Yet if there were to be a spike in Covid-19 cases they would be among the first to say how the authorities are not managing the deadly crisis well enough.

Last week I sat through a three-hour discussion on the severe cash flow problems of SMEs and the absolute need for government help without once hearing any suggestion on how the government is to raise the money — until I intervened.

We are in it together. The Singapore spirit Malaysians laud but do not emulate. We must love our country more. Particular needs can be met when we collaborate with commitment for the common good.

On the contrary, expletives are used against the authorities for being useless and — on top of it — for being a backdoor government only interested in playing politics as it addressed, not exclusively mind you, the needs of the people at the bottom of the heap in our society.

I am no apologist for the government. But this is the only one we have at this point of existential crisis for the country. It is our social responsibility to work with the government through the crisis.

The prime minister is holding the fort well in a calm and organised manner. He gets able support from the defence, finance and other ministers, as well as from Bank Negara which has done a superlative job of enabling greater liquidity in the banking system at time of greatest need.

We have a very able and dedicated director-general of Health.

We expect the team to perform, but we should not go about undermining them for particular reasons of business interests, political and individual dislike and so on.

The tabligh congregation took place from Feb 27 to March 1 while the country was in political crisis. The failure of governance during that period was one reason why Covid-19 became a greater challenge. We do not want to have something like that happen again when the pandemic is spreading but just might be brought under some control.

There have been idiotic and stupid things like warm water cures, identifiably spraying about in expensive protective suits, advice on how wives should speak and behave towards their husbands during the MCO, but we should not allow them to define what the government is trying to do — even if the ministers concerned should shut up or work in the office (or at home) instead of causing public disdain for the government.

Back to what this all means, clearly we want to be closer to the more optimistic than to the fatalist pessimistic scenario.

In the real world we do not want to be like America whose governmental and social behaviour points to a catastrophe of epic proportions, in loss of lives, loss of jobs and collapse of the economy.

One thing is for sure. America will afterwards no longer be the world’s largest economy. The end of America as the number one global power.

Neither do we want to be like China, even as it becomes the number one global power, in how we conduct our social and political life. We do not want an authoritarian system. We do not want big brother watching you all the time.

But we have to respond to the call of social responsibility and accept limitations to freedom during times of crisis, always knowing that we are still a democracy, will fight for it, and the government does not have carte blanche.

Neither do we.

By Tan Sri Munir Majid

The writer, a former NST group editor, returns to write on local and international political affairs

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How to ensure no one is left out

April 6th, 2020
Informal workers, such as fishermen, lose their main source of income when they are unable to work during a crisis. -NSTP File pic
Informal workers, such as fishermen, lose their main source of income when they are unable to work during a crisis. -NSTP File pic

IT has been more than a week since her husband left the house. Unable to reach him through mobile phone, Suniarti and her three children can only wait and pray that Mat, an odd-job worker, will return with food and household supplies, with the rice about to deplete in two days.

A non-governmental organisation (NGO) officer who helped to bring much-needed provisions to Suniarti and her family is now not able to do so due to the stricter second phase of the Movement Control Order (MCO). The government cash aid is only deposited into the account of the head of the household; Mat holds a Malaysian passport, whereas Suniarti is an Indonesian migrant, so she depends on Mat.

Due to a surge in the number of positive Covid cases, Malaysia has embarked on an extended MCO, initially from March 18 to 31, to contain the novel coronavirus.

But working from home is not an option, especially for small-time food and beverage operators, labourers who rely on per diem income and citizens who survive hand to mouth on a daily basis where their jobs require them to be physically present.

Some small-time business operators broke the MCO rules and served patrons (who also broke the MCO rules), desperate for an income to keep their businesses alive.

Corporate businesses, in the property and private education industries, resorted to virtual property and university open day events.

Lazada started selling fresh produce such as vegetables, fruits and fish to assist farmers and fishermen, whose operations have been affected by the MCO.

Freelancers, such as wedding planners, photographers, entertainers and graphic designers, are also struggling. Sure, they sometimes earn thousands of ringgit per job, but this is subject to seasonal peak demand, as well as competition, backed by social media reviews of their work.


This pandemic has revealed the gaps in our social protection system. Informal workers lose their source of income when they are unable to work.

Along with the self-employed, they are not protected by social security coverage such as the Social Security Organisation (Socso), Employees Provident Fund (EPF) and paid leave.

As such, they will not be able to make claims in the event of a lay-off or pay-cut. Considering the impact of the MCO, multiple resources have to be pooled to provide relief. State governments, zakat bodies, NGOs and businesses have come up with initiatives to disburse assistance.

On March 27, Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin announced an economic stimulus package to keep the economy going. Despite his assurance that no one will be left behind, most likely a group of citizens will be left out as the criteria to disburse cash aid depend on the Cost of Living Aid (BSH) and Inland Revenue Board databases.

Malaysia’s information databases on population are incomplete, and this leads to groups falling through the cracks.

For example, Rubiah, a 70-year-old single woman, who is illiterate and lives on her own in Keningau, Sabah, may not be aware of the RM800 one-off payment she is eligible to receive.


One of the key lessons here is data streamlining and integrating databases to curb the fragmentation of data, which prevents some citizens from getting assistance, especially in times of crisis like the Covid19 pandemic.

Running databases such as e-kasih, e-bantuan, BR1M/BSH, EPF and Socso on parallel systems is costly and could be duplicative. By harmonising data fields via establishing a Shared Service Centre (SSC), sharing of databases can be attained, thus ensuring a seamless information flow across all social protection agencies. The Centrelink Australia is a good example.

SSC should include the zakat database, for one person can end up getting two wheelchairs, one from a zakat authority and another from Socso, negating efficiency in managing limited resources.

Muslim marriages’ and divorces’ registry, just like zakat, which falls under the state jurisdiction, must be shared via SSC to enable tracing for benefits and assistance.

The use of MyKad is key to a streamlined database. Beneficiaries and their dependents can be identified, special eligibility criteria can be added and cashless disbursements can be provided to those who do not have a bank account, and the effectiveness of the social programmes, as well as social assistance recipients’ behaviour, can be evaluated.

Integrating all social assistance programmes into SSC and by synergising the contributory bodies (EPF, Socso and the Retirement Fund (Incorporated), will result in a more cost-effective management system, reducing additional burden on employers to meet separate requirements for accounting and remittance of contributions.

For a better social safety net arrangement, the science fiction film genre has given some clues; where the individuals have all the information about themselves literally at their fingertips, whenever they have to identify themselves to pay for something, to apply for a job or to receive social assistance.

If leveraged effectively, by streamlining and integrating databases, using MyKad as a start, would allow the authorities to always be ready in managing the country’s social safety net.

By Datuk Dr Norma Mansor

The writer is president of Malaysian Economic Association, emeritus professor and director of Social Wellbeing Research Centre (Employees Provident Fund-endowed centre), Universiti Malaya

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Let’s reflect on how we treat our elderly

April 6th, 2020
Across the country schools, businesses and places of work have either been shut down or are restricting hours of operation as health officials try to slow the spread of COVID-19. -AFP pic
Across the country schools, businesses and places of work have either been shut down or are restricting hours of operation as health officials try to slow the spread of COVID-19. -AFP pic

LETTERS: The Covid-19 pandemic has brought almost the world to a standstill. Daily lives and activities have been interrupted on an unprecedented scale.

Being confined indoors has taught us the value and significance of our freedom of movement.

Before the Movement Control Order, we were free to move in and out of our homes. We were caught in the hustle and bustle of life and running around in the name of living.

Before the MCO was in place, have we considered the feelings of our aged, sickly and immobile parents who were not able to venture out of the home because of their physical condition?

Many children will think that they have done their duty by sheltering, feeding and taking care of their daily needs, like looking into their medication and personal hygiene.

How many took the time to take them out of the house for a walk in the park, to their place of worship, to visit their friends or relatives or just to the mall?

Some may say that their parents are not able to walk, but that is merely an excuse. The truth is, some of us never made the effort to go the extra mile for our loved ones.

The MCO has made me reflect on the aged who have been confined to their homes even before Covid-19. How we are feeling now is exactly how they would have felt when they were not able to go out.

Hopefully, after the Covid-19 is no longer a threat, we will see our aged parents in a different light. Take them out to smell the fresh air and enjoy nature.

When we see an aged man struggling to keep pace with others, we may hear disparaging remarks from the younger generation like, ‘Why can’t he just stay at home? Well, young man, ‘Why can’t you just stay home now?


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PM amused by creativity of M’sians in dealing with MCO

April 6th, 2020
Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin said the people have their own creative ways in dealing with challenges and tests. -BERNAMA pic
Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin said the people have their own creative ways in dealing with challenges and tests. -BERNAMA pic

KUALA LUMPUR: Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin said he was aware how Malaysians were dealing with the Movement Control Order (MCO) in their own way.

“I know after three weeks staying of staying at home, some may be burdened by the challenges and test by God,” he said in a live telecast today.

He said people were not able to do things that they were accustomed to and had to forget about their hobbies and jobs, while missing their families and friends who stayed elsewhere.

“In short, our lives have been different, and sometimes we feel a bit burdened by it. I observed on social media and noticed one husband wearing his wife’s ‘baju kelawar’ (caftan).

“Some people were cycling in the house. There were those who turned my speech into a song.

“I hope this is not a weird incident or buang tabiat, as people say. These are all part of your creativity in killing boredom by staying at home,” he said.

More importantly, he said, the people have their own creative ways in dealing with challenges and tests.

He said he believed that God would only test us with things that we are able to handle.

“To my fellow Malaysians, let us remember that we are inherently resilient, individually capable and collectively strong to face these uncertain times. Let us strengthen our resolve and stay committed to our fight against Covid-19.

“Let us stay the course and follow all orders made under the MCO. It is difficult, but certainly not impossible. This is the sacrifice we are called to make in order to win this war against the deadly virus.

“Winning this war starts in our homes and with our families. We can stop the virus from spreading by staying at home and maintaining physical distance. Stay strong, stay healthy, insyaAllah, we will succeed. Remember, after the rain, comes the sun. And better days will be here again,” he said

By Nuradzimmah Daim.

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