It hasn’t even been a week since the Movement Control Order (MCO) came into effect, but a lot of us are so bored that we’ve started tagging people on social media challenges and even exercising after years of not doing so.
Good news is, we’re almost halfway through the MCO. The bad news is that experts have said that at least six weeks of this is needed to ‘flatten the curve’, i.e. slow down the spread of the disease enough to make it more manageable for healthcare professionals.
The number of new COVID-19 cases have also been increasing, with the country seeing an increase in the number of cases assigned to the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) and even deaths.
Looking at this and the situation around the world, six weeks of MCO doesn’t seem too farfetched.
In fact, the only country that had a very high number of cases but managed to take drastic measures that proved successful so far is China - and at some certain level, South Korea as well.
Italy, the country that has imposed a full lockdown which sounds very similar to our MCO, is still struggling to fight the virus.
So, how far are we Malaysians willing to go to fight this disease? Check out the rest of the story and answer a poll at the end of it so we can gauge what you guys think.
For the second day in running, China hasn’t had any local cases of COVID-19 reported. The country recorded 46 cases on Saturday (21 March), and 39 on Sunday (22 March), but all the cases were imported.
Considering that COVID-19 was first detected in the country that has recorded over 81,000 cases and 3,000 deaths, this is a huge accomplishment.
But how did they do it? Through extreme, but effective measures.
They first closed down Wuhan, where the virus is believed to have originated from and also where there were the most cases. This involved the mass quarantine of about 11 million people, a number which increased by millions as more cities around Wuhan were also put under lockdown.
The lockdown in countries like Italy is nothing compared to what China did. Transport into and out of the cities were closed - people weren’t even allowed to travel for medical reasons or other emergencies.
Even public transportation was halted. Public vehicles were not allowed on the roads, except with special permission. Only shops selling food and medicine were allowed to stay open.
The public were only allowed to leave their homes every two days to get the essentials, and only one person from a family was allowed to do so. When things got worse, some places even disallowed this, asking the residents to order in food and other items.
House to house checks were made, and anyone who was found to be ill were forced into quarantine.
A hospital that could accommodate 1,000 patients was built within days to isolate and treat those infected with COVID-19.
All residential areas were closed to anyone not living there, temperatures were taken often, and masks were almost a part of everyone’s daily lives.
In some reports, we could see large speakers and drones in residential areas, where the authorities reportedly constantly fed the public with messages regarding COVID-19 and even scolded those seen outside their homes.
Are such drastic measures necessary? Maybe not. Is it effective? Looks like it.
Level: South Korea
While China went on a complete lockdown, for South Korea, it was business as usual.
There were no major closing of businesses or restrictions for people to go out, until a church congregation rapidly increased the number of COVID-19 cases in the country.
Even then, the restrictions are nowhere as extreme as China, but they still managed to tackle the crisis (it’s still an ongoing battle but South Korea seems to be doing better than most other countries with a high number of cases).
How did they do it? Being prepared even before the virus hit them and doing mass testing.
When China was hit by COVID-19, South Korea started producing test kits, so they are prepared when it hits them. Considering the countries’ proximity, it was a matter of when rather than if, and South Korea treated it as such.
Learning from the previous SARS and MERS issues, the country started preparing for the pandemic when the rest of the world was still taking it lightly.
They prepared thousands of test kits, introduced ‘drive-thru’ testing stations where people can test without leaving their vehicles, limiting their contact with others, and reportedly has the capacity of testing 12,000 to 20,000 people per day.
Unlike many other countries, the test results were also released within 24 hours.
The country produced so many testing kits in just a few months, they started to export some to other countries.
The country used hotels and other places that could accommodate large groups of people to quarantine those suspected of COVID-19 or had close contact with those infected.
It also introduced an app called Corona 100m that alerts people if there are any cases within 100 metres of where they are, making it possible for those who’ve been alerted to monitor for symptoms and get tested.
The battle is still ongoing in South Korea, what with stubborn residents who refuse to limit social contact. Even though the country hasn’t imposed a strict lockdown, social distancing is still somewhat encouraged and large gatherings discouraged.
However, through their efforts, they’ve managed to keep COVID-19 under control, and even more importantly, the death rate at only one per cent, compared to an average of 3.4 per cent worldwide.
Italy is the most affected country by COVID-19 at this point of time, and the death rate there is almost double the average rate, which is really scary.
What’s even scarier is that the situation in Italy, in some ways, is similar to Malaysia.
Initially, most didn’t take COVID-19 all that seriously. When schools were closed and sports involving large groups were banned, people were still dining out and heading to the cinemas to watch movies, despite doing so while sitting at least one seat apart.
When the lockdown announcement in cities that were most affected was made, many rushed to go back home, more still refused to stay in and practice social distancing.
Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?
The lockdown measures in Italy also sounds much like the MCO in Malaysia, maybe just a little stricter.
No schools, no sports, only essential businesses are open, movements are restricted (to the extent some municipalities are even banning traveling out of the areas), Russian military is being brought down to help keep people inside their homes, and Cuban healthcare professionals with the experience of dealing with Ebola are being flown in to help mitigate the problem.
It’s not all bad news though. Few weeks after the lockdown, cases seem to be dropping, despite the numbers still seemingly high.
As of 22 March, Italy has seen a 15 per cent decline in new cases and 18 per cent decline in deaths. So, perhaps despite the challenges, the measures taken by the country are working, and countries like Spain are even copying Italy.
Which one do you pick?
To be honest, it is probably too late for us to adopt the South Korean way of handling this pandemic.
The China way may not be possible either, considering that some Malaysians are not even listening to the government since the MCO was announced.
Then, there's the Italian way of dealing with the issue. Considering that Malaysia started the MCO when the cases were still considerably lower compared to Italy, we may be more successful. But at the same time, Italy had also needed to issue a complete lockdown at some point, which has helped.
Are we willing to endure a complete lockdown too?
Let us know in the poll below: