THIS morning as I came to work, I received a call from a co-worker. She was unable to enter the office because her MySejahtera app for Covid-19 listed her as a person who had “casual contact no symptoms”.

Because of that, she was refused entry into the office tower where she works. Only those who had “low risk no symptoms” were permitted entry. But it was not clear whether this was the new standard operating procedure (SOP). Many others were refused entry as well.

The confusion apparently arose from the neighbouring Bangsar Shopping Centre which was listed as a Covid-19 hotspot on the Health Ministry’s (MoH) HIDE (Hotspot Identification for Dynamic Engagement – what a mouthful!) facility.

Strangely, this was announced not by the health minister or its director-general but by the Science, Technology, and Innovation (Mosti) Minister Khairy Jamaluddin. Khairy had clearly said that premises on the list are NOT Covid-19 clusters but could turn into one and there was no need to shut them down.

He was contradicted the same day of the announcement by Senior Minister (Security) Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob who ordered these premises to shut for three days, with SOP enforcement.

In the meantime, the MoH – which has overall responsibility for HIDE – was in hiding apparently, remaining silent on the entire issue. Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin was totally absent from the scene now for a number of days.

Clearly, there was no dynamic engagement among the leaders themselves, with a prime minister missing and a headless leadership making statements willy-nilly and enforcing procedures with absolutely no consultation and consideration amongst themselves.

Consider this: The Mosti minister says there is no need for closure because these listings of hotspots are not clusters; we know there are many known factory clusters which are not being shut down because of economic reasons; and the defence minister announces out of the blue that shopping malls named have to be shut. How confusing is that!

The retailers, rightfully, are up in arms. Federation of Malaysian Business Associations adviser Datuk Ameer Ali Mydin said the inclusion of premises in the HIDE system would create fear among the public about visiting such locations.

Ameer, who is also the Malaysia Retailers Association vice-president and the Bumiputera Retailers Organisation president, said he failed to understand the rationale behind the government’s decision to shut down potential hotspots for three days.

HIDE listed 152 locations at risk of becoming hotspots over a seven-day period, the majority of those in Kuala Lumpur and Selangor. Most of the premises identified are malls, markets, and stores.

However, Ameer pointed out that based on the MoH’s data from February 22 to April 2, only 4.8% of Covid-19 infections are from shopping premises. Factories are the largest contributor with 48%, followed by community spread (12.5%) and construction sites (11.6%).

Thus, it really does seem that singling out the malls for closure and sanitisation for three days is unwarranted, especially since there is no evidence to indicate that the same is being required of factories and manufacturing facilities which account for the bulk of infections.

This morning over BFM radio, Ameer said that there was no consultation with the retail industry before this measure was imposed, which is a major oversight. Such moves should be done in consultation with industry before implementation so that all problems can be identified, and shortcomings discussed.

HIDE clearly highlights the amount of confusion that the government’s handling of Covid-19 has raised. There is no coordination, consideration, nor thought given to measures taken, with each leader working in his own silo.

Examples of previous gaffes include a botched and questionable roll-out of the AstraZeneca vaccine; conflicting statements over police requirements for interstate travel; the U-turn on exercise requirements during the movement control order; a number of different dates for closure of Ramadan bazaars; etc.

The government badly needs to get its act together over the control of Covid-19. It is not an easy task – but it is made much tougher by a lack of coordination and ministers shooting from the hip before moves have been properly considered.

There is a crying need for professionals to take over and for politicians to be side-lined – a clear mandate needs to be given to a committee of professionals from various relevant ministries to run the operation to fight Covid-19 and make the needed announcements.

Probably the best person to lead this effort is Health Director-General Tan Sri Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah, who has a very good grasp of the problem and who will be able – with the help of other top civil servants and experts from the private sector – to deal with this.

Instead we have a babble of politicians who have no professional knowledge of the matter, who are now more interested in staying in power rather than solving problems and who come up with half-baked “solutions” to rather serious issues.

The least that this backdoor government can do for the rakyat it repeatedly says it represents and whose interests it values is to hand over the handling of Covid-19 to the professionals, stay out and give them the resources to fight the pandemic.

Otherwise, things will be rather abysmal for Malaysia, which is already in a rather dismal situation as I explained before. It’s not too late – but soon, it might be. Let’s not gamble with our lives. – The Vibes, May 10, 2021

P. Gunasegaram says a pandemic should be fought with knowledge and coordinated action, not politics. He is executive director of advocacy and research organisation Sekhar Institute and editorial consultant of The Vibes