Malaysia, It’s Time to Change Our Daily Habits. Now.

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Over the weekend, Malaysia, which had been showing manageable, linear growth in the day-to-day increase in new cases of the novel coronavirus, saw its largest single-day increase to date, adding 190 new cases to its record, nearly doubling the total number overnight. Whether this is a one-off instance, or signs of a new, disturbing shift to exponential, rather than linear growth, is not yet known.

The new tally of 428 confirmed cases makes Malaysia, by a significant margin, the worst-affected country in ASEAN, though to be fair, the extent of testing that’s being carried out in several other neighbouring countries is suspect at best.

If it wasn’t time already, it is unquestionably so now: We must act responsibly and aggressively, both individually and as a community, to slow the spread of this disease. That means making changes to our daily lives, our routines, and our usual practices. This has rapidly progressed from being a good suggestion to, unfortunately, being something fairly close to non-negotiable. According to Muhiuddin Haider, Clinical Professor of Global Health at the University of Maryland, working together to slow the wildfire-like spread of coronavirus “demands radical change in our lifestyle.” So get ready, friends and neighbours. Coronavirus is here, and it’s going to change your life, at least for a while.

If you usually drop by the mamak or the hawker centre every day for a spot of breakfast on the way to work, it’s time to suspend that morning ritual.

Do you normally go out with a group of colleagues for lunch each day, perhaps hitting a nearby food court? That’s now a riskier activity than it was last week.

If you hit the gym four days a week, stop.

If you’re used to spending hours on the weekend strolling around the mall, don’t.

Any large gatherings — from lectures to dinners to Friday prayers — are an opportunity for the coronavirus to spread. We know it’s extremely contagious. We know there is community transmission. And we know that implementing restrictive measures absolutely works.

Europe learned the lesson too late. The outbreak is out of control in Italy, and increasingly, now Spain, as well. Germany and some of the Nordic countries look set to follow suit. Even a couple of days can be the timeframe that means the difference between successful mitigation and a complete loss of control.

So… fellow residents in Malaysia, the time to act is NOW. If you’ve been taking a laid-back approach and thinking, “We’re doing okay here, it’s all pretty much business as usual” then it’s time to re-evaluate that approach. Coronavirus cases here have now jumped solidly ahead of Singapore, whose strict methods aimed at containment at the outset seem to be yielding good results. As for Malaysia, we’ll know within a few more days whether or not the spread here is linear, which is preferable, or exponential, which has the potential to overwhelm the country’s healthcare capacity.


Remember the key behaviours associated with halting the spread of coronavirus: Wash your hands regularly with soap and water, for at least 20 seconds. Avoid touching your face. Cover your mouth and nose when sneezing or coughing, preferably with a tissue. Discard the tissue immediately (and then wash your hands). Practice social distancing as much as possible. Minimise or eliminate gatherings. Postpone nonessential travel.

As for the things not to do… Don’t forward or share fake news or social media “information” without confirming it first. Don’t panic-buy or hoard things you don’t need, and don’t stockpile facemasks. You don’t need them nearly as much as healthcare workers do, and shortages put them at risk.

Finally, a reminder to us all to be kind to one another.

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