How Does The MCO Help During A Pandemic?
At the beginning of 2020, a particular virus started spreading globally, eventually becoming a global pandemic called COVID-19. Many countries entered into lockdowns and various control methods in order to manage the spread of the virus as thousands were dying worldwide on a daily basis. On 16 March, the Malaysian government officially ordered the country to enter into a Movement Control Order (MCO) starting on 18 March. The MCO came with various restrictions, including a restriction of movement on all premises except markets, grocers and convenience stores, while eateries are only allowed to provide deliveries and takeaways. This is an inconvenience to the millions of workers and students in Malaysia who have been forced to stay at home, with some having to work from home and others even losing their jobs. So this begs the question, how exactly does the MCO help in this situation? To answer that question, we will have to go back a few decades.
Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases Act 1988
The MCO is based on the Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases Act 1988, a set of legal rulings that was drafted in 1988 and came into effect the following year. This was drafted in light of several pandemics that occurred in the mid to late 20th century, including the Asian Flu (1957–1958), the Hong Kong Flu (1968–1969) and the seventh cholera pandemic (1961–1975). Let’s look closer into some of the aspects of this Act that are immediately relevant to our current situation.
Section 10. Requirement to notify infectious disease.
(1) Every adult occupant of any house in which any infectious disease appears, and every person in charge of, or in the company of, and every person not being a medical practitioner attending on, any person suffering from or who has died of an infectious disease shall, upon becoming aware of the existence of such disease, with the least practicable delay notify the officer in charge of the nearest district health office or government health facility or police station or notify the nearest village head of the existence of such disease.
(2) Every medical practitioner who treats or becomes aware of the existence of any infectious disease in any premises shall, with the least practicable delay, give notice of the existence of the infectious disease to the nearest Medical Officer of Health in the form prescribed by regulations made under this Act.
(3) The person in charge of any boarding-house shall, with the least practicable delay, notify the officer in charge of the nearest district health office or government health facility or police station if he knows or has reason to believe that any person in the boarding-house is suffering from or has died of an infectious disease.
(4) Any police officer or village head receiving notification under this section shall, with the least practicable delay, notify the officer in charge of the nearest district health office or government health facility.
(5) Any person who contravenes this section commits an offence.
(6) When any person is charged under this section, he shall be presumed to have known of the existence of the infectious disease or to have had reason to believe that an infectious disease existed, unless he shows to the satisfaction of the Court before which he is charged that he did not know and could not with reasonable diligence have obtained knowledge of the infectious disease or that he did not have reason to believe that an infectious disease existed.
This section requires anyone who has any knowledge of any infections to immediately inform the relevant authorities. This helps health officials to formulate and perform the necessary actions as soon as possible in order to limit the possible spread of the infection.
Section 11. Declaration of an infected local area.
(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 authorized 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 authorized officer considers necessary to control the disease.
(4) It shall be lawful for an authorized 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.
This section allows the Minister to declare any area identified as an infected local area to be under “isolation, observation or surveillance.” Under Section 2. Interpretation, the Act has defined the three terms per the following:
“isolation” when applied to a person or a group of persons means the separation of that person or group of persons from other persons, except the personnel in charge of the care and isolation of such persons, in such a manner as to prevent the spread of infection, and includes the treatment of that person or group of persons;
“observation” means the segregation of any contact or person suspected of suffering from any infectious disease for the purpose of ascertaining whether or not he is suffering from any infectious disease, and includes the treatment of that person;
“surveillance” means the subjection of any person, who is not isolated, to periodical examination or enquiry for the purpose of ascertaining his state of health and to conditions imposed by an authorized officer for such purpose.
As such, the country of Malaysia is currently under isolation, with social distancing being part of the self-isolation that is imposed on everybody in Malaysia. This is to limit the contact and potential transmission of the virus between persons, especially when the infection is known to be asymptomatic in an unknown number of cases, in which a person who is infected may not have any of the symptoms associated with the disease, but they can still go on and infect others unknowingly as well. This is why the current pandemic is more dangerous than others before it and why the measures taken are much more severe compared to the government response to SARS or H1N1.
So there you go, those are the ways the MCO is helping to limit the spread of the pandemic. It cannot stop infections immediately, and it takes quite some time before infections subside, but these measures are crucial to ensure that our local hospitals are not overwhelmed by a surge in the number of patients requiring immediate care. There are a number of other parts of the Act, so if you are interested in reading up more about it, you can do so here. Thank you, everyone, for cooperating with the MCO to keep the country safe and under control. Stay home, and stay safe.
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