KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 12 — Former Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad called today for targeted lockdowns and more widespread Covid-19 testing to replace near nationwide movement restrictions.
The criticism by the Langkawi MP from Pejuang against the four-week Conditional Movement Control Order (CMCO) — which has been implemented since November 9 across nearly the entire peninsula — was similarly expressed by other federal lawmakers from various states, across the political divide, including from PAS, Umno, PKR, DAP, and Amanah.
“Is it because in order to protect from an infection from a few patients, we lock up the people in one state?” Dr Mahathir said during his debate on Budget 2021 at the Dewan Rakyat today.
“Maybe it is difficult to control, but a lockdown has to be limited to a cluster and its surroundings only. Outside, those who are found healthy after being tested should not be locked up with an MCO.
“Yes, there is a possibility that those healthy will get infected while being away from the cluster, while working, or travelling, but if we have frequent testing, by identifying their health conditions faster, then we can isolate those who are positive before they get contact with those who are healthy.”
Dr Mahathir acknowledged some danger from his suggestions, but stressed that increased testing and quick isolation, instead of lockdowns, will help to prevent the country’s economy from declining further.
“Not only do workers lose their jobs, but the government will also lose their income. Economy recovery is very important in the government’s efforts to reduce the bad impact of this pandemic,” the Kedah lawmaker said.
This was also pointed out by Bachok MP Nik Mohamad Abduh Nik Abdul Aziz (PAS) from Kelantan, who raised a question during his debate on Budget 2021 on the frequent implementation of various forms of MCO, with the first strict seven-week phase implemented in March.
“Will the CMCO become our weapon every time a new Covid-19 wave happens?”Nik Mohamad Abduh Nik Abdul Aziz, Member of Parliament for Bachok
“MCO means movement control of the people and it also means we are freezing the economic activity of the people,” Nik Mohamad Abduh told the Dewan Rakyat.
Former Plantation and Industries Minister Teresa Kok from the DAP said the Covid-19 pandemic was expected to last for the next two to three years.
“We have to learn how to live with Covid-19,” Kok said in her debate on Budget 2021 in Parliament today.
The Seputeh MP from Kuala Lumpur cited the impact of various forms of lockdowns imposed since March on small businesses and shopping centres, as well as school closures, that lead not just to financial difficulties, but also mental health problems.
“The question now is, must the CMCO be continued forever?”Teresa Kok, Member of Parliament for Seputeh
She also urged the National Security Council (NSC) to review its rule on allowing only a maximum of two people in a private vehicle, asking if parents with small children would be expected to leave their offspring at home when they go out to buy food.
“Or the sick who must be sent to hospital? Or employers who must pick up employees?”
Kuala Kedah MP Dr Azman Ismail supported the Academy of Medicine of Malaysia’s (AMM) proposal for the country to take a “middle path” in managing the Covid-19 epidemic, instead of resorting to prolonged lockdowns that can harm the economy and the rakyat, especially children amid school closures nationwide.
The AMM, which represents medical specialists, has proposed targeted lockdowns on communities with high infection rates, accompanied with aggressive testing, contact tracing, and isoaltion.
“Lockdowns will create violent cycles that lead to larger impacts.”Dr Azman Ismail, Member of Parliament for Kuala Kedah
The PKR lawmaker highlighted immense job losses during the various MCOs, while businesses were unable to make profit during movement restrictions.
All states in Peninsular Malaysia, except for Pahang, Perlis, and Kelantan, are under a CMCO until December 6. The latest CMCO followed previous movement restrictions in the Klang Valley enforced from October 14. MPs and health experts have asked the government about its rationale in implementing a lockdown, highlighting the severity of the implication on the economy, especially small and medium sized enterprises.
Yesterday, former Health Minister Dzulkefly Ahmad, who is also Kuala Selangor MP from Amanah, questioned the rationale of the CMCO, citing public health experts who asked for the science behind this lockdown. He said the approach that should be used instead is testing, tracing, isolation, and support systems.
Former Deputy Health Minister Dr Lee Boon Chye, who is Gopeng MP in Perak from PKR, questioned if the near nationwide lockdown reflected a failure of Covid-19 public health measures in testing and contact tracing.
Former Prime Minister Najib Razak, who is Pekan MP in Pahang from Umno, told Parliament yesterday that the various MCOs and standard operating procedures (SOPs) were confusing.
Amanah president Mohamad Sabu, who is Kota Raja MP from Selangor, yesterday highlighted during his Budget 2021 parliamentary debate the impact of the Klang Valley lockdown on Pahang, despite the latter state not being under CMCO. He cited the drop in business of an ikan patin restaurant at Temerloh that depended on customers from Kuala Lumpur.
Health director-general Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah however, claimed yesterday that Malaysia was using a “prevention and control” method and that a CMCO was implemented as it is difficult to have inter-state border controls in the peninsula. Dr Noor Hisham also said that Covid-19 cases are everywhere in the community and those travelling from one state to another may carry and spread the infection.
Despite public health experts repeatedly calling for more widespread testing for Covid-19, including publication of real-time data, MOH has yet to publish on its website or social media pages its daily testing statistics. MOH previously said on October 16 that it was only using about half of its testing capacity. Malaysia averaged at 17,825 daily tests in the week prior to October 16.
Sabah’s Covid-19 spokesperson Masidi Manjun, who is also the state local government and housing minister, told the press on October 22 that the state had a backlog of 6,653 Covid-19 test results. He, however, told reporters Monday that he didn’t have statistics on the latest number of backlogged tests.