Your health or your wealth?

It would be prudent to tread carefully, so that we can be assured of a good balance between economic stability, financial security and, well, mortality


MALAYSIANS are just too predictable. Last Friday, only hours after Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin announced the reopening of certain economic sectors from May 4, many were already celebrating their “freedom” and showed their utmost appreciation by coming out in droves to certain spots, particularly restaurants and food stalls.

Social distancing? That could be in a rather, err, “distant” past. One video that has gone viral since Sunday showed a huge crowd at a food court shopping for “berbuka” delicacies.

Needless to say, Malaysians are apparently unabashed when it comes to food hunting — with or without Covid-19.

In another video, it is like any ordinary day — before the Movement Control Order (MCO), that is — inside a very popular restaurant in Bangsar. It is amazingly packed with not much breathing space.

Now place an asymptomatic Covid-19 carrier among the crowd, and the group could easily make the list of all the different clusters that are part of Health DG Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah’s daily briefings.

By Monday, more pictures of long queues (with no breathing space in between) at various shopping areas also began circulating.

The amazingly high number of vehicles on the roads also seems to illustrate how eager Malaysians are in getting back to their old life.

Sadly, the standard operating procedure, which has been outlined to reduce the chances of getting infected with the disease that has killed hundreds and thousands of people worldwide, seems to be out of the picture as well.

Of course, one could not help but compare our situation to other countries that seem to be doing things differently.

Sweden, for instance, has been at the centre of much debate over the past few weeks for its approach towards the pandemic. Unlike other countries, Sweden has not imposed any strict lockdown measure on its population.

While large gatherings are banned and high schools and universities closed, restaurants, bars, primary schools and most businesses are still open.

You can still go to your favourite restaurants and drink at your regular bar.

Is Sweden doing the right thing? One can’t really say, but the country’s chief epidemiologist Anders Tegnell, the person behind the idea, told Fareed Zakaria on CNN that the concept is more about empowering his countrymen to take a bigger responsibility in controlling the pandemic.

Tegnell said in the long run, the world has no choice but to live with Covid-19 until a vaccine or a cure is found, and the adjustment is an ongoing process.

Unfortunately, more people have so far died in Sweden compared to its Nordic neighbours. Sweden has, to date, recorded over 20,000 confirmed Covid-19 cases and more than 2,500 deaths.

Apparently, Norway, which has half the population of Sweden, only reported 7,847 confirmed cases — or approximately one-third of that of Sweden — and a much-lower figure of 213 deaths.

Another neighbour, Finland, has recorded 5,327 confirmed cases and 230 deaths. Finland’s population is almost the same as Sweden.

On the other hand, as a result of Sweden’s more “open” attitude, the country is not as “damaged” economically, according to reports, compared to other European countries that are under strict lockdown.

Still, learning from the Sweden experience, can Malaysians live with themselves, if the number of deaths increases again following the government’s decision to ease the MCO and allow more businesses to reopen and operate fully.

It is a tricky situation, but one also has to admit that life needs to go on. Still, it would be prudent to tread carefully as on we continue with our lives, so that we can be assured of a good balance between economic stability, financial security and, well, mortality.

No, rushing to the next sale at your favourite textile store to join the rest of the crowd does not sound like a great idea at the moment. Just saying…

Zainal Alam Kadir is the executive editor at The Malaysian Reserve.