The storm after the storm? — Syed Imad Alatas

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JUNE 14 — Imagine being a parent and telling your child when it’s old enough that you had front row seats to one of the most destructive global pandemics in the 21st century. This conversation will be the reality for many of us.

2020 started innocuously, with many around the world courageously declaring their New Year’s resolution to stop smoking, quit drinking, lose weight or get that degree. One’s next New Year’s resolution in about six months may revolve around health.

In January, ‘Wuhan’ was little more than a scary word, or a word that we kept seeing on our screens but never took seriously. A few months later, we took it seriously. Individuals were being hospitalised and lives were being lost, even up till today. It was no different in Malaysia; we dealt with it.

There can be debate about whether the government’s response was adequate, although this is a debate that can apply to any country. As of today, Malaysia has a total of about 8445 positive cases of Covid.

The Movement Control Order (MCO) in place for about three months has been our bulwark against the virus. Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin said that the MCO will enter a “recovery phase” until the 31st of August. Health director-general Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah has even announced that there won’t be any more daily Covid-19 updates beginning from next week.

Slowly but surely, Malaysia, and the world, is opening shop. Businesses will resume at a cautious space. Talk of borders being lifted between Malaysia and our neighbour Singapore is also brimming. In and of itself, yes, the virus was deadly, but it unleashed a plethora of other issues. Namely, the treatment of refugees and migrant workers, which in any case, shouldn’t only get the spotlight during a global pandemic.

And then there is the sharing of unverified information, or fake news. During a trying time such as the one we are in now, it is all the more imperative that information is accurate. To date, the Royal Malaysian police has opened 266 investigation papers of fake news.

Even Senior Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob was part of an allegation. A post on social media claimed that he did not welcome Singaporeans into Malaysia.

Around the world, we are seeing a resurgent Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement following the death of George Floyd, although his death was preceded by the deaths of a few other African Americans a few months earlier. Braving the risks of Covid infections, they are clamouring for greater police accountability and racial equality in the US’ criminal justice system.

The effects of BLM were certainly felt here when Miss Universe Malaysia Organisation distanced themselves from the Miss Malaysia 2017 winner after she remarked that African Americans “chose to be born as coloured (people) in America.”

The point of recounting the lowlights is not the lowlights itself. These lowlights are merely proxies for discussions that we should have been having a long time ago. Covid-19 put a hiatus on discussions about Malaysia’s political future; it has come back to the surface now, with the big question mark of Anwar Ibrahim accounting for a sizeable area of that surface.

Going forward, what do Malaysians want? What matters to them? A few concerns may come to mind: the treatment of migrant workers, the capabilities of our health infrastructures and how we treat Malaysians or residents who are different from us. That includes Africans living in Malaysia, who are rarely talked about. At the micro level, 2020 will provide us a huge repertoire for reflection. The things that we took for granted, even travelling, are now luxuries even for the wealthy. A pilgrimage to the supermarket is about as good as it gets in the Covid age.

Covid-19 is not the first time in human history the world has been hit with a pandemic, but it is the first time those of us living in this era have experienced a disease on a scale like this. Surely Covid-19 will have to re-orient our priorities, regardless of whether we are swept by a second wave in the future.

2020 has exposed debates that hit home for almost everyone worldwide. No matter the level of politicking, Malaysians will want a government that can not only weather a health storm, but put the interests of Malaysians, especially the marginalised, above the short-term goals of politicians. The Covid-19 storm may soon be subsiding; one can only hope.

Another storm may be brewing, one of demands for greater political acumen when it is so needed today.

* This is the personal opinion of the writer and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail.

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