Opinion

The Novel Coronavirus Does Not Recognise Marital Status

Image Credit: KGW.com
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Critics have blasted the PN government’s decision to allow interstate travel for long-distance married couples, but not others.

Apparently, Malaysia’s government believes that if you’re fully vaccinated and want to travel interstate to visit your spouse, that’s a risk-free endeavour. But if you’re fully vaccinated and unmarried — or, you know, happen to actually live with your spouse — then, sorry, but the risk is just too great to let you leave your state.

Or perhaps they think that the vaccine is somehow extra effective if you’re a spouse in a long-distance marriage.

We’re not sure about the rationale, but with effect from August 10, married couples who are living apart will be permitted to travel between states to visit each other (and apparently their young children, as well), as long as they’re fully vaccinated. At this time, these are the only people who will be granted the ability to travel around, and then only once their state has moved beyond Phase 1 of the National Recovery Plan.

Naturally, the announcement generated more questions than it answered. Do both spouses have to be fully vaccinated or just the one travelling? Do both states have be in a phase of the National Recovery Plan that would permit travelling, or just one of them? What if a travelling spouse needs to pass through a state where travelling is not yet allowed? Is travelling permitted by all modes (air, car, rail, etc.) or are only private cars allowed?

Regardless of the fine-tuning that is clearly in order, does this policy not smack of open discrimination and a rather suspect understanding of the virus and the vaccines?

Malaysia’s largest organisation representing doctors appears to think so. On August 9, the president of the Malaysian Medical Association (MMA), Datuk Dr Subramaniam Muniandy said in a statement that the country’s leaders would be well-advised to follow the science in deciding how and when to ease restrictions, and flatly rejected the notion that scientific evidence was driving the decision-making at all.

“If it is indeed a decision based on science, why then is travel allowed for those wishing to see their spouse or their young children?” he asked.

“Either it’s sufficiently safe for the fully vaccinated to travel, in which case all vaccinated individuals should be allowed to do so, or it is not, in which case nobody should travel.”

The MMA has also previously been critical of the scattershot, strategy-free National Recovery Plan.

Datuk Dr Subramaniam Muniandy | Image Credit: The Sun Daily

We would extend the MMA’s call for a science-based approach further. The virus, after all, cannot differentiate between people gathered in a mosque or those in a salon. Again, beginning on August 10, the government will allow fully vaccinated people to congregate in mosque or other houses of worship “to perform prayers,” but bars, salons, and certain other businesses are still blacklisted, even for fully vaccinated patrons.

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Again, as an extension of the MMA’s statement on the discriminatory travel permissions, either it’s safe for the fully vaccinated to be indoors together — in which case all businesses should be allowed to open their doors to customers who have been fully immunised — or it’s not safe, in which case, exceptions should not be carved out for certain places, but not others.

Like most residents of Malaysia, we welcome the incremental easing of restrictions for the fully vaccinated, particularly as more and more people in the country get their doses. But we agree with the MMA in its simple admonition to the government on this point:

“In the states where the fully vaccinated are allowed these freedoms, [it] should be based on science.“




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