Lack of clarity in movement control order

Malaysians will be under a two-week nationwide movement control order starting tomorrow to March 31 in an effort to arrest the Covid-19 outbreak.

Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, in his special televised address last night, said all business premises have to be closed except supermarkets and stores selling daily essentials.

This order is unprecedented for Malaysia and has raised many questions from the average Malaysians.

Between Muhyiddin’s press conference earlier in the evening and his special address several hours later, long queues were observed at hypermarkets nationwide as essential items were wiped out from the shelves.

Twentytwo13 spoke to Malaysian Bar president Salim Bashir, constitutional and local government expert Derek Fernandez, and Malaysian Indian Restaurant Owners Association committee member K. Ramalingam over what the order means to Malaysians.

Apparently, not everything is in the clear.

Is Malaysia experiencing a ‘lockdown’?

A lockdown generally means it is safer for people to be inside their homes, rooms or in a particular area and they are not allowed to leave the area or move freely.

The Malaysian government insists that the right term is “movement control order”.

Salim, however, describes it as a “partial lockdown”. He said the order is intended to make people stay at home, to self-isolate. As for Fernandez, it simply means there is no mass movement of people.

Can the government do this?

Salim says the order is in accordance with Section 11 of the Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases Act 1988, read together with Police Act 1967.

What is Section 11 of the Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases Act?

The Act states:

Declaration of an infected local area

11. (1) If the Minister is satisfied that there is an outbreak of an infectious disease in any area in Malaysia, or that any area is threatened with an epidemic of any infectious disease, he may, by order in the Gazette, declare such area to be an infected local area.

(2) The Minister may, by regulations made under this Act, prescribe the measures to be taken to control or prevent the spread of any infectious disease within or from an infected local area.

(3) During the continuance in force of an order made under subsection (1), it shall be lawful for any authorised officer to direct any person or class or category of persons living in an infected local area or in any part thereof to subject himself or themselves —

(a) to treatment or immunisation;

(b) to isolation, observation or surveillance, the period of which being specified according to circumstances; or

(c) to any other measures as the authorised officer considers necessary to control the disease.

(4) It shall be lawful for an authorised officer to use such force, with or without assistance, as may be necessary and to employ such methods as may be sufficient to ensure compliance with any direction issued under subsection (3).

(5) Any person who refuses to comply with any direction issued under subsection (3) commits an offence.

Will I be caught if I go out?

Salim said the government can enforce the direction if they make the orders into a regulation. This is why the government activated the Police Act 1967 and the Infectious Disease Act.

The government can make the orders into a regulation, get it gazetted and invoke Section 11 (5) of the 1988 Act which makes it an offence if you defy the order and the penalties come under Section 24 of the same Act.

Fernandez said if you are not buying essential items or rushing to the hospital due to a medical emergency, than yes. The police can technically arrest you by virtue of the Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases Act 1988 and Police Act. But he wonders about the mechanics behind this – i.e. will there be 10,000 policemen on the streets?

Will I go to jail?

Section 24 of the Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases Act 1988 states:

Any person guilty of an offence under this Act for which no specific penalty is provided shall be liable on conviction —

(a) in respect of the first offence, to a jail term not exceeding two years or a fine, or both;

(b) in respect of a second or subsequent offence, to a jail term not exceeding five years or a fine, or both;

(c) in respect of a continuing offence, to a further fine not exceeding RM200 for each day such offence continues.

I’m a lawyer. Do I go to work tomorrow?

Salim said if we were to follow strictly to what Muhyiddin had said, then law firms must be closed.

Can I then go into office for a while, just to pick up some files or complete some paper work?

Then there is no point of having this order, explained Salim. The idea is to stay at home.

Does this mean I can’t even go for a jog?

According to Salim, you can’t. Otherwise Section 11 (5) of the Act can be invoked.

Fernandez, however, said perhaps going for a jog is fine, but if you congregate, say more than four people, then it could be an offence.

(Update: March 18 – 12.12am: The National Security Council said any form of sports or recreational activities cannot be conducted outdoors. On March 19, Cheras OCPD Asst Comm Mohamed Mokhsein Mohamed Zon said no hiking, jogging and recreational activities are allowed and that people should exercise at home.)

So what should I do?

Salim said on the basis that these orders are gazetted by the government, you need to stay at home and adhere to the orders. Otherwise you could land in trouble.

(Update 2.48pm: You are allowed to go out to get your daily essentials and to quickly return. Public transportation services will continue to operate throughout this duration.)

How will I be affected by this order?

Fernandez said the private sector will be impacted. It is unclear if business owners can make their workers go on unpaid leave in which case the government will pay them RM600 each per month if they earn less than RM4,000.

He said Muhyiddin needs to clarify this as the impact on such businesses is huge. Some businesses cannot survive paying overheads especially when there is no work coming in, like those running restaurants.

So will my favourite banana leaf rice shop be open?

Ramalingam, who owns Uma Rani Restaurant, said based on Muhyiddin’s address, it was not clear.

He added: “Maybe by tomorrow (today) we will get a clearer picture.”

Fernandez, however, said Muhyiddin’s statement suggests on the face of it that on March 18, you cannot go to restaurants and it mentions closure of all private and government establishments. Private sectors will include restaurants. But he too admits it is not clear.

He said there is bound to be a rush today morning at markets and grocery and food shops, if people interpret this to mean they can no longer have meals outside.

A sudden surge of people at one place will certainty contribute to the spread of the coronavirus.

(Update 2.48pm: According to the National Security Council, restaurants and eateries are allowed to operate but will only cater for takeaway and delivery services.)

PsST poster

I’m confused. Aren’t you confused?

Fernandez admitted Muhyiddin’s statement requires further clarification as there are many unanswered questions. People are not supposed to go to restaurants to eat, but can restaurants continue to operate or can they serve food by way of delivery?

Secondly, are businesses required to pay their workers during the next half month? He added not all businesses can operate from home as most of the files are not in electronic form (e.g. legal firms).

Does the order also mean employers can force workers to go on unpaid leave?

He said these issues must be clarified.

Will local council workers clean the drains in my neighbourhood?

Fernandez said that too remains unclear. He highlighted that Muhyiddin said government departments will be closed.

But local authorities are not government departments and the type of services rendered include sanitation, drainage and roadworks.

The Petaling Jaya Mayor has called for a meeting to discuss this today. As a councillor, Fernandez said he will be attending the meeting which will hopefully shed some light into the matter.

I’m a Malaysian and I travel to Singapore daily for work. How now?

This was not addressed in Muhyiddin’s speech and remains unanswered at press time. You’ll have to wait until noon today and call the National Operation Management Centre’s hotline at +603-88882010 to get a better picture or perhaps the authorities could come out with a statement to clarify whatever needs to be clarified.

(Update 2.48pm: According to the National Security Council, you are not allowed to travel to Singapore.)

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