When putting food on the table trumps getting the virus

When putting food on the table trumps getting the virus
By Zan Azlee

I used to be funny in my writings. Well, I think I used to be funny in my writings. But in recent times, I haven’t been able to find the motivation to do so. The country is in such a dire situation that, as much as I want to be amusing and bring some lightheartedness, it just isn’t coming.

The daily number of infections is not showing any indication of reducing despite tighter lockdowns being announced. And now, an enhanced MCO has been declared in almost all districts and sub-districts in Selangor and Kuala Lumpur. Is it really going to work?

Malaysia has had three full lockdowns and now, an enhanced lockdown right in the country’s economic heart. If the main concern was the virus before, it is fast approaching a situation where fear of contracting the virus is secondary to paying bills and putting food on the table.

Malaysians have already been complaining about the loss of income, loss of jobs, increase of debt, shutting of businesses, and so much more which are all related to economic survival. The government has been dishing out the aid, but is it enough and how long can this go on?

We have the popular, and very well-intentioned, #BenderaPutih initiative. As we can see in the media, many deserving families have been receiving aid already from the community after putting up white flags. But again, is this enough and how long can this go on?

With lockdown after lockdown happening, Malaysians aren’t able to save themselves. When the first one happened, we persevered and although it was difficult, we kept the faith that it would end and we could actually rebuild. And that is exactly what many did.

Just as we were doing that, we get hit with a second lockdown. While we were still down, a third happened, and now a massive enhanced lockdown. If we were a boxer who just got knocked down, we are now being punched again before the referee has even finished counting to ten.

All the aid that is coming from the government and from the community (i.e. #BenderaPutih) is, of course, a big relief and we are thankful. But, I think those receiving this aid would rather be assured of a job and income security in the long term than just enough food contributions on a daily or weekly basis.

Read the news. There have been people who would rather flout the rules, work, and risk getting fined thousands of ringgit just because they need to put food on the table. The suicide rate in the country has been at its highest this year.

At the moment, I have to honestly admit that I am not at ease. I am self-employed and, although I am not in as dire a situation as having to put up a white flag, I am worried nonetheless. I work hard to get whatever projects I can that fit under the SOPs of the lockdown.

It isn’t just important for me and my family, but also for the freelance team members who work with me on a regular basis. But, if the lockdown continues, or worse, keeps getting tightened, I don’t know what will happen. I don’t want to rely on handouts. I want to be assured of a future.

Dr David Nabarro from the World Health Organisation said a lockdown is something we all should work hard to avoid. Lockdowns have a lot of negative consequences, as we can see in Malaysia, especially for those in the lower-income groups.

Nabarro adds that in order to avoid lockdowns, proper measures and actions need to be put in place and taken. We need to accept that we will have to live with the virus as a constant threat, but we must make sure that life goes on as usual as much as possible.

I am not an expert and whatever suggestions I make would be quite basic, such as maintaining good health hygiene, physical distancing, masking, ramp up the national vaccination efforts, more targeted tracing and testing, etc. It is quite common sense.

I understand that the government consists of people too and they don’t always have all the right answers. But I do know that they have access to all the right experts, professionals, and intellectuals to come up with the right decisions to solve the problem and put the people at ease.

Fine. The third lockdown and a massive enhanced lockdown are already here. Evaluate the situation, do not prolong it, and then make sure we do not regress again like we did several times already. Try not to leave the country in tatters after this pandemic. I want to be funny again.

[This article was originally written for and published at Malaysiakini.com]

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