COVID-19: Why are some Malaysians still eating at restaurants?

On Monday, at about 10pm, the Malaysian government announced that a Movement Control Order was going to be put in action where the country would be “pressing pause” on all but the essential services. Non-essential businesses would have to be closed, the rakyat have been encouraged to limit movement unless absolutely necessary and everyone is advised to remain calm.

Obviously, first thing that happened when the order was announced was that people started panic buying groceries, food and supplies, cleaning out the shelves at convenience stores and supermarkets. Even after the announcement stated that these stores will remain open during this period, and even though panic buying will help nobody. I suppose, as far as human nature goes, this is only natural—after all, doing that doesn’t put anyone in the wrong.

That is, until today, when Malay Mail found out that there were still people eating at restaurants despite the Movement Control Order’s explicit instructions not to. According to the report, people were seen eating in a restaurant adjacent to the SS15 wet market in Subang Jaya even though today is the very first day that the pause has been initiated.

Image: Malay Mail

Perhaps most interesting of all was when Malay Mail asked one of the shop’s workers why they were still openly serving customers, the worker “appeared lost but conceded that his manager did inform him about the matter yesterday”.

“We told all our customers that they cannot dine here. We also removed all our tables and chairs from the foot walk to comply with the government’s order,” another worker told Malay Mail.

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As Malay Mail continued to investigate, they received a myriad of responses that ranged from claims that some of the people here were waiting for spouses and were there for no longer than 15 minutes, to others who said that they could not turn them away because their customers were the elderly who wanted to “rest for a while”.

The same is also happening over in Sibu, Sarawak, according to TheStar. Reportedly, the food and drink stalls in the central market there are still allowing customers to dine-in.

Personally, I don’t know what to think of a situation like this. Who’s to blame here? The restaurants who decide to serve their customers in blatant disregard for a government order, or the patrons who think that the rules don’t apply to them? It’s hard to say, but I will say that on the note of the elderly, they are the ones who are most vulnerable to this disease.

That being said, not all restaurants have this problem. Based on Malay Mail’s report, many are complying with the requirements of the order and have done so by removing the chairs from their shops, putting up signs and only accepting takeaway and delivery orders. I’ve also personally observed shops in my surrounding neighbourhood refusing customers who wish to dine in and put up signs that they will only do takeaways, which I think is the responsible thing to do.

What some don’t realise is that this whole thing, the whole fight against COVID-19, only works if we all make it work within our own capacity. Social distancing, is the buzzword I’m sure you’ve heard of the most, especially when paired with “flatten the curve”.

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But these are not just buzzwords. They’re important things that we as a society need to take into consideration. The reason why we need to “flatten the curve” is so that we don’t overwhelm our healthcare system. COVID-19 isn’t a virus with an unprecedentedly high mortality rate. That’s why it is very important that we do not overwhelm our healthcare system so that the people who need treatment the most can receive the treatment they require. Vox did a great job at articulating this concept, and it’s a video that I think everyone should watch:

The gist of it is that beating this virus and stopping the spread is as much down to us as it is down to our healthcare professionals. We need to do it not just for ourselves, but also for the people who are most vulnerable to it.

And it’s not like we’re in a complete lock down or anything like that. We still have access to food delivery services, our supermarkets and grocery stores will still remain open, our banks are still operational at this point in time. But if we don’t take this opportunity to nip it at the bud, it will only become harder for us in the future.