Fix loophole letting too many flout Covid-19 SOPs with no worry

KUALA LUMPUR, 4 July 2021:

With five states moving tomorrow to the second phase of the lockdown – imposed nationwide since June 1 – more Malaysians are hoping their states will be next, in anticipation of daily Covid-19 cases falling significantly over the next few weeks.

Finance Minister Tengku Datuk Seri Zafrul Tengku Abdul Aziz had said the National Recovery Plan earlier transition from July 5 for Perlis, Kelantan, Perak, Pahang and Terengganu could be seen as a reward for these states having managed to reduce the number of Covid-19 cases significantly.

What happens if Covid-19 infections start surging again in these states – is there a penalty then? No one likes being threatened with penalties, but it looks to be the only way left to avoid yet another Covid-19 lockdown in the months and years ahead.

The problem is there are still too many people flouting standard operating procedures (SOPs) aimed at curbing the spread of Covid-19 and blatantly getting away with this misbehaviour without any penalty.

The most obvious loophole is that of individuals testing positive – yet claiming to have fully complied with SOPs and not had any exposure to infected people. What if some or most of them are lying?

So far, the authorities have been lenient towards Covid-19 patients. But after 18 months of this pandemic, it’s time to wield the stick – especially in the five states getting a slight leeway from July 5 – to prevent infections surging again there.

There’s no need to implement new penalties – compounds of RM1,000 and more should just be applied automatically on anyone testing positive for Covid-19 effective a week ahead, from July 12 onwards.

Leniency by waiving or reducing this compound can then be given for patient honesty, so that the source of infection can be better traced and addressed – including asymptomatic Covid-19 carriers. This will immediately help healthcare staff tackle and reduce the biggest group of Covid-19 infections – seemingly from unknown vectors.

This automatic compound will also act as a deterrent to ensure more people will strictly follow SOPs and also register for vaccinations – furthering the national agenda towards achieving herd immunity against Covid-19.

For those whom the penalties remain as imposed, they should be getting little sympathy – isn’t 18 months of awareness enough to instil some discipline? Think how this bit of selfishness had caused millions around Malaysia with their lives and livelihoods impacted – especially with two lockdowns so far.

By imposing compounds for flouting SOPs mainly on those infected, it will also free up the authorities to focus on other aspects of Covid-19 management. Better yet, it will allow faster reopening of public facilities – from malls and entertainment centres to workplaces and tourism spots – so that some sense of normalcy can return.

It’s an idea which the proper time has come – there’s no use just offering the carrot without a stick, if we’re to move on past the Covid-19 pandemic together as a nation.