By Datin Jacqueline WM Wong of Demensia Brunei
On 16 March 2020, the newly appointed Prime Minister of Malaysia Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin announced the Restricted Movement Order. The Order is to be enforced from 18 to 31 March 2020, with a possibility of extension or amplification based on the advice of the Ministry of Health.
This Order prohibits mass movements and gatherings across the country including religious, sports, social and cultural activities. To enforce this prohibition, ‘non-essential services’ including all schools, government offices and business premises must be closed. For Muslims, this means the adjournment of all religious activities in mosques, including Friday prayers. Only ‘essential services’ such as grocery stores, pharmacies, banks and utilities will remain open.
The announcement raises concerns for those living in poverty and other low-income groups, the elderly, disabled and vulnerable. Furthermore, it has potential implications for casual and wage workers, migrant workers, the self-employed and those with insufficient savings. Remote working is not a possibility for everyone.
With the spike in the number of new COVID-19 cases to over 190 on 15 March, panic is rising with people afraid of the unknown and uncertainty over the duration of the measures, resulting in panic stockpiling of goods. Many of the low-income and poor cannot afford to buy food and medical supplies in bulk.
Supermarket operators have assured that business will stay open as usual and essential items will be continuously replenished. Prices of necessities are kept controlled. Some have designated special opening hours for the elderly, disabled and vulnerable to make purchases before the crowd comes in.
Several commercial delivery services have begun to prioritise same-day and/or next-day delivery to people living with dementia and carers, the elderly and the disabled for online orders of groceries and medical supplies.
Grab (a local version of Uber) continue to make private transport available for essential travel, for instance to hospitals and medical check-ups.
The police and army are also prepared to provide assistance to remote settlements and rural areas throughout Malaysia.
This is also the time of need where the community is needed to step up to support the elderly, vulnerable and marginalised. This set me looking into contacts and seeing what we all can do to help – and what a discovery! I am very surprised and encouraged to know that in Malaysia, a number of social welfare programmes and initiatives have been put in place to assist and support the poorest and most vulnerable. Here are some:
1. Food Baskets for the Urban Poor Programme – provides some 3,500 impoverished families with a monthly allocation of RM80 credited into their MyKad (smart identification card) to purchase essential items (such as rice, sugar, flour, bread and eggs) from hypermarkets.
2. Ready-to-Use Therapeutic Food (RUTF) and Milk Programme – a community feeding initiative where RUTF and milk are delivered to the Orang Asli indigenous communities in rural areas, helping to alleviate malnutrition among the indigenous population. The Programme also sees health experts monitoring the health of Orang Asli children every six months.
3. Anjung Singgah Homes – provides homeless communities in urban areas with temporary housing until they get back on their feet.
4. Home Help Services for the Elderly – provides services to senior citizens from low-income groups such as home help and cleaning services, running errands and providing meals to those who lack mobility.
5. EPIC Homes Programme – this programme builds modern homes with clean running water and electricity for underprivileged communities. Currently it is focusing on the indigenous people of Peninsular Malaysia, the Orang Asli. The initiative is a stellar example of how the concerted contribution and efforts of several stakeholders – the government, civil society, NGOs and businesses – can collaborate for the betterment of the community.
6. Raising Living Standards of Low-Income Households (National Key Result Area (NKRA) of the Government Transformation Programme) – one of the initiatives provides the Penan, the poorest of Malaysia’s indigenous groups, with dental treatment and healthcare services, a community feeding programme, education fund and cottage industries for sustainability focused on Penan handicraft.
7. KWAN – KPJ Healthcare Group flagship CR Initiative – an initiative to help the impoverished and underprivileged via involvement in a chain of charity outpatient clinics and dialysis centres. The KWAN initiative began in 1998 with a small clinic in Johor Bahru, and today has grown to include the Waqaf An-Nur Hospital and 19 clinics (including 5 site clinics and 6 dialysis centres throughout Malaysia). Providing accessibility to high-value, low-priced clinics and dialysis centres helps to ensure the community can access medical care and attention despite high costs of healthcare. In addition, KPJ also operates two mobile clinics in the states of Johor and Selangor. To conclude, while Malaysia faces unprecedented and challenging times during the COVID-19 pandemic, it is also heart-warming to know that individuals, corporations and institutions have stepped up, volunteered, and come together to make available funding and support for the less fortunate during these uncertain times.
We are confident the COVID-19 response in Malaysia will be supported by its own local communities, and at the same time bringing together learnings from the global community.