Staying Home, Staying Alive: Malaysians Learn To Stay Home

How many of us have watched doomsday movies or read books with an apocalyptic setting? Brilliant movies like Contagion, Pandemic and I Am Legend, which we assumed were works of fiction, now seem like “Life imitating Art.” However, in all honesty, thoughts of a whole generation being wiped out due to something as minute as a virus, is making us unduly worried. With deaths recorded around the world daily, Coronavirus or COVID-19 is the latest global scare, with millions having to stay home to avoid being infected or spreading it to others.

Stay Home, says this child holding up the poster because she has not seen her nurse mother for two weeks since the MCO was enforced.
Despite the MCO being in full force, some Malaysians are still up and about while this cute baby has not seen her mother, who is a nurse at the hospital, for two weeks.
Photo credit: KYE (used with permission)

Malaysians And The Stay Home Order

On 18 March 2020, Malaysians woke up to the reality that they have to stay at home for two weeks. This is to adhere to the requirement of the Movement Control Order (MCO) to contain the spread of COVID-19. This virus has taken the lives of 23,495 deaths worldwide, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO). The number increases daily.

The Malaysian Prime Minister, Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, first announced about the MCO on 16 March 2020 (the day I turned 61 coincidentally). Everyone is required to stay at home.

Unfortunately, Malaysians saw it as holiday time for the family, making plans for what seemed like an extended weekend, posting their fun moments on social media, angering many who had dutifully stayed home.

Some members of the public even made hotel bookings in domestic resorts. They did not realise that a MCO is a partial lockdown, which means you have to #StayHome. Almost everyone used this hashtag, including the Royal Monarch, the Yang Di Pertuan Agong, in his speech.

Defiant Groups Who Did Not Stay At Home

When the order was first announced, it was to the chagrin of those who felt they cannot survive without their nightly teh tarik at the usual hangouts with their regular mates. Some of them chose to be defiant. They took their family for breakfast at the food stalls. After eating, they went to the markets for grocery shopping, some with children in tow.

Not content with that, they took a long drive to their hometowns to visit their parents. With that, the authorities had no choice but to impose stricter measures using the Police Force. Later, the Armed Forces were deployed to ensure the MCO is adhered to. Alas, after one week of instituting the MCO, Malaysians were still out and about and the authorities had no choice, but to announce on 27 March that it will be extended to 14 April 2020.

Social Distancing: How Do We Do It?

For many Malaysians, they get to learn new terminologies these past few weeks. Social Distancing is one of them. It is mandatory to practise this to ensure that there will be no physical human contact to spread the contagion.

Social distancing means people have to:

  • Remain at home, unless it is absolutely critical to go out.
  • Keep 1.5 metres away from others.
  • Avoid physical greetings such as handshaking, hugs and kisses.
  • Use card to tap and pay, instead of cash.
  • Travel at off-peak periods and avoid crowds.
  • Avoid public gatherings and high-risk groups.
  • Practise good hygiene.
Apart from Staying at ome, Malaysians have to practise Social Distancing, especially at public places like the markets and clinics
One of the ways to prevent contagion is to practise social/ physical distancing. But it is best to stay home where possible.
Source: World Health Organisation (WHO)

It is obvious that Malaysians do not understand what social distancing is all about. They actually saw the fortnight as a much-needed break from the stress of work and studies. Social distancing? Who cares? Some of them defiantly said.

Learning To Manage With Staying At Home

For my family, however, we learn to manage with what we have and work within the constraints set upon us, especially staying at home.

We follow the instructions and conditions set by the authorities, which included:

  • Not going out unless it’s necessary or critical to do so.
  • Do not go out in groups, and only one person per vehicle.
  • We were told that only the head of the household is allowed to go out and buy groceries.
  • All those who leave their homes can only travel within a 10km radius of their home address as listed in their identity cards.

With all the restrictions in place, interstate travelling is disallowed. However, before the order took full effect with all the measures in place, Malaysians had jammed the highways in their “balik kampung” (back to hometown) mode. For these folks who have not undergone any testing and had travelled back home, they may infect their aged parents and/or grandparents if they themselves get infected along the way. With the new regulations in place, they are now not allowed to return to the city centre. They have to remain in their hometown for the duration of the MCO, or longer if the period is extended.

Numbers Are Escalating, Yet Some Are Still Not Staying Home

As of 28 March 2020, ten days after the MCO first took effect, the death toll in the country has reached 27 with a total of 2,320 cases. Unfortunately, new cases just for this date alone was 159, a drop from two days earlier of 172 on 26 March 2020. The only ray of hope for Malaysians was that 320 cases have recovered to date. Everyday we wait for the latest update from the Ministry of Health (MOH).

Stay Home, or the numbers will increase
The list is updated daily. This was the posting by the Ministry of Health on 28 March 2020 indicating the number of cases.
Source: Ministry of Health, Malaysia

It is envisaged that the increase in number of new cases can be attributed to any of two factors: new clusters and not staying home. According to the Chief of Defence Forces, as of 23 March 2020, about three million Malaysians have defied the MCO, refusing to stay home. Even the frontliners – the medical teams at the hospitals treating the patients – had to come up with postings containing posters asking the public to stay home.

Why We Need To Worry, And Stay At Home

Understandably, some people see the pandemic (as classified by the World Health Organisation), as scary and many are wondering if this spells the end of mankind? Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is a respiratory illness that can spread from person to person. We now know that the virus that causes COVID-19 is a novel coronavirus. COVID-19 was first identified during an investigation into an outbreak in Wuhan, China.

Subsequently, when an infected person coughs or sneezes, the virus spreads through droplets of saliva or discharge from the nose. Thus, it is important that we practise respiratory etiquette, for example, by coughing into a flexed elbow or into a tissue. Some patients have pneumonia in both lungs, multi-organ failure and sometimes resulting in death.

Stay Home, know your zones and parameters
A learning curve for the citizens of the world when COVID-19 extends its tentacles everywhere.
Source: Author

Containing The Contagion: FAQs On COVID-19

1. What Are The Symptoms Of COVID-19?

Patients with COVID-19 have had mild to severe respiratory illness with symptoms of:

  • fever
  • cough
  • shortness of breath

2. What Are The Severe Complications From This Virus?

Some patients have pneumonia in both lungs, suffer multi-organ failure and, in some cases, resulting in death.

3. How Can I Help Protect Myself?

People can help protect themselves from respiratory illness with everyday preventive actions:

  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If the latter is not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitiser that contains at least 60% alcohol.

4. If You Are Sick, Try To Keep From Spreading Respiratory Illness To Others By:

  • Making an effort to be a good citizen and stay home at all costs.
  • Being a caring individual and cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then dispose the tissue in the bin.
  • Cleaning and disinfecting frequently-touched objects and surfaces.

5. What Should I Do If I Recently Returned From An Area With Ongoing Spread Of COVID-19?

  • If you have just returned from overseas, you are required to undergo health checks and quarantine (or self-quarantine) for 14 days.
  • If you develop symptoms during that period (fever, cough, difficulty in breathing), seek medical advice.
  • Call the office of your health care provider before you go, and tell them about your travel and your symptoms. They will give you instructions on how to get care without exposing other people to your illness.
  • If you are sick, avoid contact with other people to reduce the possibility of spreading the virus to others.

6. Is There A Vaccine?

There is currently no vaccine to protect against COVID-19. The best way to prevent infection is to take everyday preventive actions, like avoiding close contact with people who are known to be sick and washing your hands often.

7. Is There Treatment For It?

There is no specific antiviral treatment for COVID-19 at the point of writing. However, medical scientists around the world are racing against time to develop one. People with COVID-19 can seek medical care to help relieve the symptoms.

If you suspect that you may have the symptoms, please contact the Malaysian Health Ministry’s Crisis Preparedness and Response Centre’s Hotlines at +603-8881 0200, +603-8881 0600 and +603-8881 0700. The email address is: cprc@moh.gov.my.

From The Team At Espoletta

Like all Malaysians, we are concerned about the situation pertaining to COVID-19. As with the rest of the world, we are fighting an unseen enemy and as mentioned above, no vaccine has been discovered yet.

Watch this space as our writers share their stories:

  • COVID-19 the world over
  • Malaysians overseas
  • Caregivers for special needs
  • Worried parents whose children are away
  • Daily income workers and how it affects them
  • Kindness – we help each other
  • Frontliners – the brave ones and the fallen

This article is part of Espoletta’s CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) initiatives.

Hasnah ABDUL RAHMAN

About Hasnah ABDUL RAHMAN

She has more than three decades of experience in the media industry before becoming a communication strategist, Hasnah has since left the corporate world, and turned her interest of cooking into a catering business. Elsewhere, she's also a social activist for autism, and writes on the side too.

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