Malaysia’s daily dose of movement control order (MCO) news this morning kicked off with the mainstream news outlets carrying a Bernama piece saying that Malaysians will know if the MCO will be extended or not on April 10. That’s around 72 hours from now, now that we’re in Wednesday. Are you still keeping track of the days or have you lost it?

Anyway, there are no quotes in the piece from the national news agency, and it’s not based on something the authorities just said. However, on April 4, which was last Saturday, health ministry director-general Datuk Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah mentioned “April 10” in his daily press conference.

“The data will tell us if we need to extend (the MCO). Now, I can’t predict but the reality is that we have to base it on science and facts. We hope that by April 10, the data is available for us to make a decision on whether we need to extend it or not,” our tireless health DG said then. The government has also consistently said that the MCO decision will be based on recommendations by the health ministry.

Even though thankfully, Malaysian’s Covid-19 trendline hasn’t seen an exponential increase such as those seen in Italy, Spain and now the US – meaning we’re doing a decent job at flattening the curve – the cases keep on coming as known clusters grow in generation and sporadic ones emerge. Sporadic cases are where the source of infection cannot be traced.

As of yesterday, official figures put Malaysia’s total Covid-19 cases at 3,963, with a total of 63 deaths. Yesterday’s addition was 170 new cases and one death. So, we’re not out of the woods yet, far from it. Based on (virtual) office pantry chatter and the many “insider info” WhatsApp messages, I think most won’t be surprised should there be an extension.

Yesterday, senior minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri hinted at what’s to come regarding the movement of people in the days of Covid-19, for both the remainder of the MCO as well as post-MCO, when the blanket nationwide order eventually lifts. The current restriction order ends on April 14.

It will be based on zones denoting how many Covid-19 positive cases in the area, and the standard operating procedure (SOP) will be tabled by the National Security Council (NSC) together with the home ministry at a special cabinet committee meeting tomorrow.

Ismail Sabri, who is also defence minister, said the SOP will address people movement as well as business operations without jeopardising the measures in place to stop the coronavirus from spreading. “The SOP is also for post MCO to prepare us for the days ahead after April 14,” he said.

Now, not all realise this, but the MCO, while necessary to halt the coronavirus spread, has been very damaging to businesses, and the economy in general. And for the work-from-home average employee, and their kids, cabin fever has set in for most. The government knows this, and the minister acknowledged this.

“All this will have to be studied. We know that the people are restless after being confined to their homes for a month. But we don’t want to allow people to move freely and later have to reverse the decision and impose a longer MCO,” Ismail Sabri said.

On the other hand, the government will continue to ensure that the good work of the MCO will not go to waste, so to speak. It will be a balancing act, and the SOP is needed so that Malaysia doesn’t go the way of certain countries that have seen Covid-19 cases taper off, before a second wave of infections surfaced. Hong Kong and Singapore were mentioned as examples.

What will likely happen when the MCO lifts, as hinted at by the minister, is that the government will retain some sort of movement control based on zones – green, amber and red.

The Bera MP gave some examples. For instance, the NSC’s SOP will determine if it’s wise to allow residents in green zones (areas with no Covid-19 positive cases) to go out of their area, as this might introduce risk to the green zone. How about those who live in a green zone but work in a red one? There might be some loosening based on zones, he said, without elaborating. Green aside, the other zones are amber and red, the latter being those with over 40 Covid-19 cases.

Will this make much of a difference for most of us? Well, most of the Klang Valley is red, so perhaps we shouldn’t be raring to go out, which in any case would be dangerous for ourselves and the community.

This unprecedented “quarantine” has introduced many challenges to Malaysians – singles watching their lives disappear, some struggling to balance work and family duties (while all the kids are at home), business owners sweating over finances and job uncertainties, among other issues. Many would be hoping for it to end ASAP, for life to go back to what it was before Covid-19. But how, when the virus is still around?

Let’s brace ourselves for more movement control, for greater good.

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