KUALA LUMPUR: The Conditional Movement Control Order (CMCO) must be extended for another two weeks to decisively bring down Covid-19 cases and prevent new clusters.
Medical experts believe that although Malaysians at large have shown maturity and self-discipline in adhering to the new norm that includes observing social distancing and wearing face masks, there are those who disregard safe practices, especially in crowded areas such as markets, shopping malls and banks.
This, they warned, could give rise to new Covid-19 cluster cases, thus more awareness, education, promotion and enforcement on the new norm should be created before the government decides to completely lift the order.
Malaysian Public Health Medicine Specialist Association president Datuk Dr Zainal Ariffin Omar said there was a need for another phase when the current one ends on May 12, which should see the continuance of the CMCO with more openings of businesses and the Enhanced Movement Control Order enforced at hotspots.
"Malaysians seem prepared for a new norm. But there are still communities with a Third World mentality and attitude. We have to change this.
"We can't live under the CMCO for long. But based on people's responses and with the upcoming Hari Raya celebration, which could see increased movements and crowding at shopping areas, the order must be prolonged.
"Phase Five, which could last until the end of the month, could see the government preparing for the total lifting of the CMCO, which could be sometime in early or mid-June," he told the New Straits Times.
University Malaya Public Health Medicine Specialist Associate Professor Dr Rafdzah Ahmad Zaki from the Department of Social and Preventive Medicine also cautioned of a high movement of people if the order was lifted before or immediately after the Hari Raya period.
"This is risky because we still have a few cluster of cases in the community. The success of controlling Covid-19 during this CMCO depends on societal and community behaviour, which could be different during the CMCO and when the MCO is totally lifted."
Phase Five, she said, should be focused on empowering and preparing the community for the "new norm" post-MCO.
"Until we have specific treatment and vaccines for Covid-19, we will expect this disease to be around. Even if we manage to reduce the cases in Malaysia to zero, the threat will still be around due to international travelling."
Professor Dr G. Jayakumar, who is a professor of Community and Occupational Medicine at the Faculty of Medicine in Melaka Manipal Medical College, said the goal of Phase Five would be to keep the curve as flat as possible.
Under it, he said, most workplaces and business establishments could re-commence work with some restrictions or guidelines, while classes at educational institutions might reopen from June 1.
However, he said, gatherings like weddings, funerals, celebrations, religious congregations, large social gatherings and interstate travel had to be curtailed.
"We need to be mindful, the objective of MCO is not to bring down the cases to zero. It is meant to flatten the epidemic curve to ensure health systems are protected and able to cope till a vaccine is developed. Covid-19 is unlikely to end for the next 18 to 24 months.
"Guidelines and government orders have to be clear from the onset, realistic and achievable. There should not be flip-flop decisions from different government agencies."
Dr Jayakumar, however, raised concern over the complacency of the public or authorities when the MCO was relaxed.
"If we are lackadaisical, we can expect a new wave of the epidemic. We can anticipate increased reports of 'cabin fever' cases, which is a popular term for a relatively common reaction to being isolated in a building for a period of time.
"Other mental health issues like work-related stress or burnout may increase, resulting in disruption of family or work-life."
On a positive note, he said, the public could expect transformation in offices in the form of flexi-hours or working from home, increased online courses and a boost for the gig economy under the new norm.
Virologist and Emeritus Professor Datuk Dr Lam Sai Kit, a senior fellow of the Academy of Sciences Malaysia, said the impact of the CMCO would not be felt for another one or two weeks.
He said the lifting of MCO did not depend on reaching zero cases, but there should be a steady decline of cases for at least two weeks.
Malaysia, he said, had not reached a steady state at present, as the number of cases continues to "behave like a yo-yo".
"We hope to see the number of red zones reduced, green zones increased, no local transmission, and no new clusters, even among the migrant workers.
"I hope there will not be a new phase unless the situation drastically deteriorates during CMCO. However, there may be an extension of the CMCO after May 12, with further relaxation, and for the other states that have delayed implementation of CMCO to catch up."
Lam added that the people's maturity and self-discipline in the past few days had been exemplary.
"If this keeps up, Malaysia can be a showcase to the world that we are a disciplined population, and that we have not abused the trust of the government."
Source: New Straits Times