DISCLAIMER: This article is merely a short summary and by no means a comprehensive guide to Covid-19. Data was updated until March 20.
AT THE TIME of writing, Malaysian Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin had imposed a 14-day Movement Control Order, which began on March 18, 2020 following the second wave of Covid-19 cases caused by the discovery of two new major clusters, including the recent “tabligh” event at a mosque in Sri Petaling. This order entailed a ban on all mass gatherings for religious, sport, social and cultural activities, as well as the closure of educational institutions. Supermarkets, public markets, and sundry and convenience shops which sell daily essentials, however, would remain open.1,2
With this, Malaysians were also banned from travelling overseas during that period, while those recently returned from abroad must undergo health checks and self-quarantine for 14 days. All foreign tourists were also banned from entering the country during this time.3
At last count, the tally stood at 900 – with 32 confirmed cases in Penang – making Malaysia the worst-affected Covid-19 country in southeast Asia. Two deaths have been reported so far; the first fatality was a 34-year-old man from Johor, who attended the “tabligh” event, while the second was a 60-year-old pastor in Kuching, Sarawak, who had an underlying health condition.4
A warning was issued by Health Director-General Datuk Dr. Noor Hisham Abdullah of a tsunami-like third wave if Malaysians fail to strictly adhere to social distancing guidelines. “We have a small window of opportunity to break the chain of Covid-19 transmission. Please help the Ministry of Health to play your part, as each and every one of us has the responsibility to take all the precautionary measures to keep ourselves and families safe. Failure is not an option here, otherwise, we might face the third wave of the virus. The next one will be as big as a tsunami, more so if we have a lackadaisical attitude.”
The Breakdown of Covid-19
Essentially, coronaviruses are a large family of viruses which may cause illness in animals or humans. Several coronaviruses have been identified, including the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in 2003 and the Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) outbreak in 2012. Covid-19 is the most recently discovered; its outbreak can be traced to Wuhan, China.5
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), common symptoms of Covid-19 are fever, tiredness and dry cough. Some patients may have aches and pains, nasal congestion, runny nose, sore throat or diarrhoea. These symptoms are usually mild and begin gradually. Some people become infected but don’t develop any symptoms and don't feel unwell. Most people (about 80%) recover from the disease without needing special treatment. Around one out of every six people who gets Covid-19 becomes seriously ill and develops difficulty breathing. Older people, and those with underlying medical problems like high blood pressure, heart problems or diabetes, are more likely to develop serious symptoms.6
The disease can spread from person to person through small droplets from the nose or mouth when an infected person coughs or exhales. These droplets land on objects and surfaces around the person. Other people then catch the virus by touching these objects or surfaces, then touching their eyes, nose or mouth. People can also catch Covid-19 if they inhale droplets from the infected person who coughs out or exhales droplets. This is why it is important to stay more than one metre (3ft) away from a person who is sick.7
Following the increase in the number of cases outside of China (by 13-fold), and the equally rising death toll, WHO officially declared the outbreak a pandemic. The governments of Italy, Spain and France soon implemented a nationwide lockdown, while a number of other countries closed their borders to curb the spread of the virus by international travellers.
According to WHO, chances of infection can be reduced by regularly and thoroughly cleaning your hands with an alcohol-based hand rub or washing them with soap and water; maintaining at least a one-metre (3ft) distance between you and anyone who is coughing or sneezing; avoid touching the eyes, nose and mouth; making sure you, and the people around you, follow good respiratory hygiene, including covering your mouth and nose with your bent elbow or tissue when coughing or sneezing, before immediately disposing the used tissue; and staying home if you feel unwell. If you have a fever, cough and difficulty breathing, seek medical attention at once.8
In response to the outbreak, State Welfare, Caring Society and Environment Committee chairman Phee Boon Poh says, “We’re proactive, not reactive. We started looking into the problems as soon as the situation became serious, so we were able to act quickly. We set up temperature checks at the airport. We asked ourselves questions like what are the roles of the private sector? What are the mechanisms to transport patients, such as a dedicated ambulance? How do we manage communications? How must the hotels operate? What about supermarkets? And most importantly, how to maintain good hygiene? This includes cleaning the rails, trolleys, bathrooms and lifts for public use. We’ve increased our supply of hand sanitisers as well.
“At the end of the day, [government methods] are not fool-proof. The government is able to help its citizens, but only to a certain extent. Penangites have to practice self-discipline in maintaining good hygiene. If you get sick or if you’re coughing, wear a face mask. If you are not well within 72 hours, immediately go to the doctor’s. The best medicine is still to sleep early and have enough rest.”
Penang’s Tourism Takes a Bad Hit
By Enzo Sim
THE STATE’S ECONOMY stands on two main legs – the manufacturing and tourism industries. Amid public fears over the spread of Covid-19, both sectors have taken quite a bad hit; and despite the (now cancelled) Visit Malaysia 2020 and Experience Penang 2020 campaigns, many tourism-related activities and festivals in Penang have been halted – it was recently-announced that the George Town Festival will not be held this year, and the two-weekend arts festival Open Studios Penang will be postponed until further notice.
Likewise, tourist arrivals have slowed to a trickle, largely precipitated by mass cancellation of tours and hotel bookings, and the recent implementation of the 14-Day Movement Control Order by the federal government, effectively banning entry of foreign visitors into the country during the mentioned period.
To better gauge the degree of impact this has on the tourism sector, Penang Monthly speaks to those in the business.
Vayshnavee Shanmugam, the marketing and communications manager of Royale Chulan Penang, reveals that the hotel has seen staggering losses totaling more than RM100,000 as a result of room and banquet cancellations since the start of the global Covid-19 outbreak. The recentlyannounced Economic Stimulus Package 2020 helps to cover some costs. The package renders financial assistance to affected businesses in the tourism industry by offering a temporary discount on the hotel’s electricity bills amounting to 15% for six consecutive months, as well as service tax breaks starting from March to August this year.
“Our room rates have been revised alongside discount offers that are available to guests who book their rooms directly through us,” says Shanmugam. “We are also taking precautionary measures within the hotel’s premises by implementing regular body temperature checks on all our associates and staff when they clock in for work, and placing hand sanitisers at designated areas around the hotel,” he says. “We are also offering voluntary temperature checks at the reception area, and scheduling our cleaning attendants to clean and sanitise all public areas in the hotel every two hours.”
Lee Chin Poh, the son of Penang’s heritage joss-stick-maker Lee Beng Chuan, also expressed grave concerns about the pandemic affecting the family business. “The number of tourists travelling to Penang has dropped to almost none. But we’re trying to get by as best we can; we still have regulars with standing orders for their preferred types of joss and incense sticks,” Lee says, adding that they are also supported by a monthly allowance of RM300 by George Town World Heritage Incorporated, “which is able to partially ease the rising costs of living, especially during such challenging times.”
According to trishaw peddler Khoo Hock Chuan, “This is not the first time I’ve experienced this, the current situation resembles the one back in 2003 during the SARS outbreak when people stopped travelling for fear of contracting the deadly virus. It is just that it seems to be far worse this time; you can’t find a single Chinese tourist walking around George Town these days!” he says. “My daily income has suffered, but I am grateful to be receiving the one-off RM600 cash allowance from the government.”
Melissa Chan is a lawyer-in-training in the UK with a passion for musicals, stories and learning about people from all walks of life. She enjoys speaking to a diverse range of fellow Penangites, analysing their different perspectives and sharing their voices with the community
Enzo Sim is a Mass Communications graduate who has an unwavering passion towards International Relations, history and regional affairs of South-east Asia. His passion has brought him to different South-east Asian capitals to explore the diverse cultural intricacies within the region.