Wednesday, July 8

Life in the shadow of MCO under Covid-19

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IT was in August 1971 when I experienced a curfew imposed in Sibu by Rajang Area Security Command (Rascom) during the Communist Insurgency, when certain areas were placed under a 24-hour curfew. In the main town itself, the curfew was enforced from 11pm till 6am the following day.

My dear friend Shookry Gani and I were employed as marketing executives with The Borneo Company; and part of our job entailed the promotion of alcoholic beverages, including Gold Harp Lager beer and Guinness Stout at various night spots in the town;
usually lasting till well after midnight.

Many a time we had to try and beat the nightly curfew; and because we were housed at the Queensway bachelors’ quarters of the company, where the occupants were entirely expatriate till we came along, the police personnel who stopped us going home after curfew hours had simply waved us through – knowing that we were only fulfilling our overtime duties each night.

They knew for sure that we were not out supplying goods to the communists!

On Wednesday, the government imposed the Movement Control Order (MCO) whereby all citizens have been instructed to obey a stay-home order; only essential services are allowed to be carried out. This, in effect, means that all normal work has to stop; schools and offices to be closed; and everyone is supposed to stay put at home. They are only allowed to go out to either get deliveries of food or to the markets to purchase essentials; and to attend to any medical emergencies.

The slogans for the immediate future is for us all to take care of our personal hygiene, wash hands, and put on face masks; check ourselves in at the nearest clinic if we show any symptom or sign of Covid-19; and most of all, to ensure that we are socially distancing ourselves from one another. If we feel unwell or have been declared a person-under-investigation (PUI), we are to self-quarantine for 14 days and do not come into contact with anyone – family or friend.

It is essentially one step away from a full lockdown.

We are today only on Day 4 of the 14-day MCO, which will end on March 31, 2020 – provided that the situation would not get any worse.

Already the WhatsApp Groups which I am on, approximately a dozen of them, have been like a battlefield in a war zone – and the bullets and bombs aplenty are being propelled and fired so haphazardly that I truly believe many will be killed by friendly fire.

I have written about the power of and the use and abuse of the Internet as well as of WhatsApp chat groups a number of times.

However, these past four days have seen an unprecedented deluge of simply false and fake news – in all forms – by voice messages, forward shares, doctored news images, and real news twisted and perverted to suit the sender’s fancy and whatever else you can imagine!

I have also noticed that the regular users and sharers on such groups seldom – if ever – cross the divide and post or share on social media like Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. Similarly, those who are regulars on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram almost never use WhatsApp groups to get their messages across – it’s like there are two totally different worlds out there.

It’s not that there is less fake news on social media such as Facebook – there’s almost as much – but I find that whatever fake news there is on Facebook, these reports are very swiftly taken care of by other users, by their corrections or by the admins themselves. On WhatsApp groups, the fake news wildfire spreads a lot faster and is often difficult to correct and control.

After all, it takes only one simple click to forward any shared message; more often than not, WhatsApp group users are (sorry to say this) usually more gullible and probably would not read beyond a headline, or even to listen beyond the first few spoken words in a voice message!

I would urge everyone who has an account on any social media and who’s on WhatsApp groups to please be more considerate, more discerning, and be less ‘trigger-happy’ to share, forward, or click on anything that they receive. Please do not feel like as if it’s your personal status, prestige, standing, or honour at stake if you happen to be slow to hear the news of some major new occurrence. In this case the early bird doesn’t catch the worm, the bird may get in trouble with the law, as the law is seriously coming after anyone who creates or passes on fake news; whether he is aware of the fact that it’s fake or not. In such cases, the law presumes your guilt! Stay clear of a fine, or even prison time. It’s just not worth it. So there’s still 10 days left of the government imposed stay-home programme. So what is there to do?

I’m sure there’s plenty. Cook, bake, or experiment in the kitchen to your heart’s content. You can still go out to the supermarket, the wet market, or the baker’s ingredients shop to buy your needs. If you love reading, read that book that has been at the back of your mind, or finish the one that was bookmarked ages ago; or do a spring cleaning and donate some old books to a library or children’s home, or sell them on the Internet. If, like me, you’re a film buff, go through that downloaded extensive library and binge-watch that TV series that you’ve been storing away for a while.

I know that it’s not possible to visit your loved ones, who may be living away from you; but then again there’s FaceTime, WhatsApp video calls, and Skype, and you can call them up and ask after their health and speak to your heart’s content.

Do remember that the elders in all our families and our ageing friends would enjoy and love to hear from you – they all get lonely and a loving voice speaking to them with care and concern will always make their day.

Last of all, and most important of all, is to just spend time, talk and enjoy just being with your family members – your spouse, children who’re still with you; and others residing with you – reconnect and re-establish that loving bond and friendship and that special sense of belonging.

This chance of a lifetime was, I believe, God-given due to a virus called Covid-19.

For all we know, it could be a blessing in disguise – a pause in our busy lives to stop and experience this family bonding.

Keep well, stay safe, and remember to wash your hands at all times, don’t touch your face, and to practise social distancing when outside.

May God bless us all.

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