We need a conversation about risk and uncertainty

MARCH 20 — About 90 per cent of the people who criticised the wisdom of allowing the tabligh convention at Masjid Jamek Sri Petaling would have just last week — barely 10 days ago — ALSO argued against school closures, or felt that a lockdown was unnecessary, or thought that people pulling their kids from school were“OTT” and so on.

It is so easy to now condemn large gatherings but fail to notice our complicity in the spread of the virus by debating and challenging early social-distancing measures like school closures. 

You will not believe the number of times I heard people say, look, we gotta be practical, ok? We can’t just stop this and stop that. 

Sure, in that case why chide the mosque folks for not stopping their 14,000+ gathering (which surely involved a lot of planning), especially when they held it in late February i.e. minus March’s first two weeks of information?

Notice the hypocrisy: How can I condemn a religious event which happened in late February when in early March I challenged the idea of school closures, citing “balance and priorities”, citing the difficulty of parents taking leave, saying “Let’s not panic and become fear-mongers” and so on? 

Don’t the Sri Petaling mosque organisers have their organisational concerns too? How is it so "irresponsible" for thousands of people to gather at one place yet still “optional” or “debatable” for thousands of students and teachers to continue congregating every day in the face of a WHO-declared pandemic? 

And let’s be honest: If the prime minister had not declared the Movement Restriction Order on Monday night, many businesses and schools and colleges would still be open! 

How many organisations would proactively declare their own closure/restriction/shutdown as a responsible initiative to contain Covid-19?

We all know the answer: Very few. Why? Because Malaysian organisations and leaders simply do not understand the nature of a systematic risk like Covid-19.

This is the reason why it didn’t matter that Italy had thousands dying, most Malaysians today still think and talk like the Italian government in late February. 

They really do not believe anything catastrophic will happen. They’re probably looking at the latest charts and maps and saying, “Oh, the infection numbers in our state are still kecil lah; relak lah!”

This is the reason why, even two days into a shutdown, a lot of people still believe that the chances of being infected with Covid-19 is “smaller than getting hit by a car when crossing the road.” 

Or they keep on looking at the global Recovery Rate and think to themselves, hey, with so many people recovering it can’t be too dire, right? 

These folks surely do not understand that looking at the Recovery Rate for Covid-19 is like being eager to play Russian Roulette just because there are five empty chambers in the gun, so the probability of winning is 5/6. Good odds, eh?

*This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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