MCO Photo Story: Kuala Lumpur at a standstill, like you’ve never seen before

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The COVID-19 pandemic has taken us all by surprise. Back in January, it seemed as though the issue, while serious, wouldn’t escalate to the heights it now has—or at least, I didn’t think so. Fast-forward a couple of weeks and Malaysia is now under a Movement Control Order (MCO), one that has been extended thrice at the time of writing.

As he travelled through the Kuala Lumpur city centre, SoyaCincau photographer Zachary Yoong managed to take a series of photos that are pretty startling, at first glance. The images capture some of the struggles being faced during the MCO, and depict a city—one that is usually bustling with tourists and locals alike—at a complete standstill.

Prominent locations in the heart of KL like Bukit Bintang, Pasar Seni, and even the KLCC area were deathly quiet, with the silence only broken by the sporadic appearances of front-liners, essential service providers, and the less fortunate on the streets.

According to Zac, one of the most surprising things that he encountered was the quality of the air in the city. Most of us are accustomed to the blaring horns and exhaust fumes of hotspots in KL, but the situation right now is quite the opposite. The usual noise is down, the skies are clear, and pollution in general has reduced.

Obviously, the MCO-enforced reduction in the number of cars and pedestrians on the road plays a huge role in that. The air is fresher, and the usual sources of ambient noise (such as large, commercial air conditioner compressors) are mostly gone. Instead, much of the capital is cloaked in a silence that is almost peaceful in nature—set against the backdrop of a global crisis.

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Certain tourist hotspots like Pasar Seni have been cordoned off, while shops, hotels, and even money exchange booths have been shut down in other areas around town. The stark contrast in the atmosphere here is clear to see, even through photos.

“The most touristy places were empty! That really blew my mind.”

– Zachary Yoong, SoyaCincau
A worker in protective gear sanitises the street

Public transport is still running during the MCO, although access is only allowed during limited hours. While there were still commuters taking the LRT, the crowd was nothing compared to the usual LRT hustle-and-bustle in Kuala Lumpur. On the positive side of things, passengers—for the most part—were seen to be practising social distancing measures in line with mandated guidelines from the authorities.

“Even the seats [in LRT trains] have stickers that say ‘practise social distancing’.”

– Zachary Yoong, SoyaCincau

Zachary explains that being on the ground in Kuala Lumpur during the MCO brings up something that’s very close to the heart: the struggles of the less fortunate in Malaysia. Yes, the economic effects of the global pandemic could threaten the livelihoods of many, and the inconveniences of the current situation aren’t exactly ideal.

But for those of us who are privileged to retain jobs, to continue to contribute to society, and—most importantly—those of us who still have access to basic necessities (food, housing), we should be grateful.

A man prays on the streets / Bukit Bintang, KL

“Some people don’t even have the privilege to stay at home, and yet we are still complaining about boredom. Please, if the only issue you’re facing is that you have nothing to do, try putting yourself in the shoes of those less fortunate.”

– Zachary Yoong, SoyaCincau

Through the lens, we can also see front-liners such as policemen working for the cause. Men and women from various essential services have continued to work through an incredibly trying time, to continue to serve the public.

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For the front-liners—from those in city maintenance, to healthcare personnel and law enforcement—we thank you for your service, from the bottom of our hearts. To all Malaysians out there: let’s continue to do our part, too. Abide by the guidelines that have been issued by the authorities, and let’s work together to overcome this crisis.

Photos taken by Zachary Yoong with the Sony A7 III.