Address pandemic fatigue now

ON May 28, the Prime Minister announced a ‘total lockdown’ for the whole of Malaysia after days of surging Covid-19 cases and deaths. For the fifth day in a row, our daily new Covid-19 cases per million people surpassed India’s figure, with no signs of slowing down.

It has been nearly a month since the director-general of health Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah cited pandemic fatigue as one of the factors causing the surge in cases. However, since his announcement on May 3, little has been done to address this.

The recent lockdown announcement directly contradicts the World Health Organisation’s guidelines on pandemic fatigue. One of the main points in the WHO guideline is to be precise, clear, and predictable. However, a PDF announcement of a lockdown without detailed SOP is the definition of being unpredictable.

Without knowing the specifics of the lockdown, people started speculating about the SOP, causing more alarm and, by extension, stress among the rakyat.

The lockdown may have a devastating effect on our economy. As the Senior Minister and the Minister for International Trade and Industry Mohamed Azmin Ali puts it in his Facebook post May 28, a lockdown similar to movement-control order (MCO) 1.0 will cause 2.8 million people to lose jobs. He then concluded that the government unanimously agreed to not put Malaysia under a total lockdown.

Exactly 24 hours after his Facebook post, the PDF announcing a total lockdown was announced on the National Security Council Telegram.

This inconsistency and unpredictability fuels further stress resulting in pandemic fatigue. What exactly changed in 24 hours? Was the May 27 case increment of 7,857 cases not alarming enough?

Furthermore, delivering this grim news through a two-page PDF undermines the gravity of the news. Distressing news such as this warrants a live announcement followed by a press conference to iron out any confusion from the public. This allows the PM to display empathy towards the suffering of the rakyat and to reinvigorate the people to soldier on in fighting this ghastly pandemic.

This is far from the first time the government throws WHO guidelines for pandemic fatigue out the window. For instance, the guidelines specifically stated that the actions of leaders must be in line with what is being recommended for the public.

Needless to say, this one has been violated again and again, with the latest one being that when Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department (Religious Affairs) Dr Zulkifli Al-Bakri was fined RM2,000 for attending a tahnik ceremony by a local artist.

Another example of the blatant excursion from the guidelines is the repeat use of similar terms but with different meanings. Take the term MCO. In the three MCOs we have undergone, each MCO had different SOP. These inconsistencies create confusion, causing further stress to the public.

Pandemic fatigue also causes another grave issue – a severe trust deficit towards the government. Can anyone blame the rakyat (for being upset) when a senior minister convinces us that a total lockdown is a terrible idea and, 24 hours later, the PM announces a total lockdown?

This trust deficit consequently leads to other problems, including vaccine hesitancy and even Covid-denial, which causes tens of thousands of people to not show up for their appointments despite voluntarily registering for the vaccination in the first place.

The government needs to heed the D-G’s remarks on the cause of the disaster we are in today. For as long as the root cause is not addressed, we will continue in this state of perpetual MCO.

The government should look into the WHO guidelines and follow them, without blindly charging into the issue, butchering the guidelines and the people’s spirit in the process.

Nevertheless, we, the rakyat, cannot afford to succumb to pandemic fatigue. We need to help each other by motivating each other to prevent more Covid-19 infections.

We should check on each other often, crack jokes, send food, anything we can to keep our spirits up. As a total lockdown is looming, let us bring back the spirit that we had during the first one. Kita jaga kita! – May 29, 2021.


* This is the opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Stringer.

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