COVID-19 Op-ed

Enhanced Movement Control Order (EMCO) and “Panic-exodus” in Malaysia

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Wu-Ling ChongSenior Lecturer,
Department of Southeast Asian Studies, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences,
University of Malaya, Malaysia

From 11 September 2020 12am until 25 September 2020 11.59pm,
the Kota Setar district in Malaysia is placed under the enhanced movement
control order (EMCO) following a spike in COVID-19 cases in the district.
Kota Setar covers 28 townships including Alor Setar, the capital of the state
of Kedah. Such order would affect around 366,787 people (Loheswar, 2020).
Furthermore, toll road of Alor Setar is closed during the EMCO period.
Ferries from the Kuala Kedah jetty are not allowed to operate. Religious
centres and educational institutions are also ordered to shut down. Only
essential stores are allowed to operate. These include eateries, grocery
stores, petrol stations, pharmacies, clinics and hospitals. Eateries are only
allowed to serve takeout food from 8am to 8pm. Dine-in is not allowed.
However, clinics and hospitals are allowed to operate 24 hours but
pharmacies, petrol stations and grocery stores can only operate until 8pm. In
addition, all sporting, social and recreational activities are
prohibited.This EMCO has been affecting the most people in the country since
the outbreak of the pandemic.According to news reports, after Defence
Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob announced the 14-day administrative EMCO
on 10 September 2020, many people in Kota Setar had rushed to leave the
district before the enforcement of the EMCO. These include workers who
commute daily between Kota Setar and other places. They were afraid that if
they did not do so, they would be stuck in Kota Setar and could not go to
work. Needless to say, they had to find temporary accommodation outside Kota
Setar. Others decided to leave the district because they did not want to be
subject to the restrictions of the EMCO. This had caused massive jam along
the PLUS highway (“Gedashida”, 2020a; Huang & Huang, 2020). Moreover,
many people also rushed to supermarkets to buy groceries and other essential
items. The panic-buying resulted in long queues that extended to outside of
the supermarkets.The panic-exodus from Kota Setar has raised considerable
concerns among netizens living outside the district. Many of them are worried
that the panic-exodus might actually increase the chances of spreading
COVID-19 to other places of the country. The exodus certainly brought larger
crowds to areas not too far away from Kota Setar such as Sungai Petani and
Penang. Should any of those escaping from Kota Setar is already infected with
COVID-19, it is highly possible that it will spread to these areas, creating
new infection clusters.Some netizens commented that those escaping from Kota
Setar were selfish and inconsiderate. But there is nothing the netizens can
do about it since there is no law that prohibits residents in Kota Setar from
leaving the district before the enforcement of the EMCO.Nevertheless, the
panic-exodus is something that brings more harm than good. Hence, if the EMCO
needs to be implemented in other areas in the future, the government must
minimise the chances of panic-exodus. I suggest that the following measures
should be taken to minimise the spread of disease and still respect the
freedoms of peoples:

  1. The Government should allow those
    working outside the affected areas to continue commuting between their
    residential areas and workplaces if they have valid documents proving their
    employment status. They must also strictly comply with the standard operating
    procedure (SOP) set by the government.
  2. The Government
    should impose rights-based policies to prevent further spread of COVID-19,
    while regulating movement within affected areas. It should provide
    considerations for those working elsewhere and need to commute between the
    affected areas and their workplaces. This is to make sure that less people
    will rush to leave their locations.

qiangguan zaiji, Jibei dadao yongxian chelong . (2020a, 10 September).
Kwong Wah Yit Poh. Retrieved 11 September, 2020,
qiangguan zaiji, Jibei dadao yongxian chelong . (2020b, 10 September).
Kwong Wah Yit Poh . Retrieved 11 September, 2020, from,
R. W., & Huang, H. L. (2020, 10 September). Yiqing shengwen, luoshi
jiaguan, Gedashida 36wan ren you jinzu . Sin Chew Jit
. Retrieved 10 September 2020, from
lLoheswar, R.
(2020, 10 September). Putrajaya announces 14-day administrative EMCO in Kota
Setar, Kedah starting midnight. Malay Mail. Retrieved 11
September 2020, from—————————— For instance,
see the comments under “Gedashida” (2020b).

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