[ UPDATE 17/3/2020 23:25 ] The Royal Malaysian Police has retracted the directive which requires individuals to seek police approval for travel between states. According to Astro Awani, the IGP is urging the public not to storm their police stations as all travel between states would not require them to fill up a form for the time being. However, everyone is advised to reduce movement and travel to other states during the Movement Control order.
Just hours before Malaysia enforces its Movement Control order, the Royal Malaysian Police has announced that documented approval from the police will be required before travelling interstate. The new directive has caught many people by surprise as the initial travel restriction under the movement control was announced only for international travel.
According to the Inspector-General of Police (IGP) Tan Sri Abdul Hamid Bador, the measures were needed to properly monitor civilians between states during the movement control order and priority will be given to those seeking to travel for valid reasons.
The current aim of the movement control is to curb the spread of COVID-19 but this new directive could potentially make the situation worse.
Crowds create clusters
All Malaysians should maintain social distancing and the current announcement will drive crowds to the police station which is a potential risk of spreading the disease.
To get approval, you will need to fill up a form with contact details, whereabouts and vehicle details. When we checked, we are told that the forms will only be available tomorrow (18th March).
Unnecessary panic and rush to get home
Apart from unnecessary crowding at police stations, the new announcement could also create panic as people will try to get to their respective hometowns before the midnight deadline. This could cause jams and pose a potentially higher risk of accidents. In addition, the directive is also counterintuitive as the rush could potentially spread the disease to more locations.
Are forms really necessary? How is the police going to enforce?
The biggest question is, are paper forms really necessary to track the movement of people? If there’s a huge volume, it will take up resources to process handwritten forms and to grant approval. Alternatively, the police could go digital by allowing citizens to report their whereabouts online which saves time for everyone.
The police could also emulate the Malaysian Embassy’s effort in Indonesia. Recently, all Malaysians in Indonesia are required to register with the embassy and this is done via Google form or by email.
Instead of requiring individual submissions, the notification could be done through community submission. If an individual is going to another state, all residents can report to a community leader which will then submit to the nearest police station. This would minimise the number of people at the station and reduces exposure.
Another huge question mark is how will the police enforce this requirement? Will there be roadblocks at every single interstate highway? How will it be applied for air travel since there are no border checks for domestic flights except for Sabah and Sarawak?
What’s even more bizarre is that the Malaysian National Security Council had tweeted that it is required to get approval for travel from Selangor to KL.