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Civil Defence Force personnel patrolling public areas in Kuala Lumpur yesterday to enforce the implementation of the Movement Control Order. -BERNAMA pic
Civil Defence Force personnel patrolling public areas in Kuala Lumpur yesterday to enforce the implementation of the Movement Control Order. -BERNAMA pic

IF we have been curious about what end times may actually look like, I think now is about the closest we will ever get, short of a cataclysmic new world war: a world in the midst of a pandemic.

Growing numbers of countries are on voluntary lockdown, their governments closing their borders to stop their own people going out or foreigners coming in. Streets are emptied, their residents all indoors, fearful of what the future holds.

From Manila to Madrid, normal bustling city life has disappeared and an eerie solitude takes its place. From Kuala Lumpur to Kuching to Kota Kinabalu, officials are issuing stern warnings against anyone found not sticking to the strictures of the Movement Control Order (MCO), which came into force on March 18.

Businesses are struggling to cope with implementing an order issued at very short notice, this being nothing short of an emergency, after all.

In fact, the order can be said to be in response to a growing alarm, even panic, in business suites and factory floors as well as households as to how best to address rising disquiet about preventing a spread of the raging Covid-19 contagion in the workplace and then to homes.

As cases of Malaysians contracting the virus saw a sudden and sharp spike, it became almost inevitable that firm and drastic official action was necessary to avert pandemonium eventually breaking out.

Such draconian and synchronised measures adopted globally are unprecedented in peace-time.

Yet it can be argued that the world is now at war with an invisible and malevolent microbe.

The eventual costs in terms both of human lives lost and business activities at a temporary standstill are of course yet unknown. But economists are already issuing dire warnings not just of a global recession but even a dreaded depression.

Each day just seems to bring ever grimmer news of markets tanking, companies staring at bankruptcy and, of course, jobs lost.

With oil prices crashing — albeit over unrelated issues — Putrajaya faces an unenviable job of shoring up the economy with diminished financial firepower.

And if we had thought that things could not have gotten any worse, they did.

Instead of coming together to face a common mortal enemy to humankind, world leaders have thus far not seen fit to take concerted action to fight the enemy or to address the economic fallout.

Global leadership is sorely lacking. Instead, China where the epidemic began in December and the United States where the epidemic may just be starting are locked in mutual mistrust, recrimination and tit-for-tat action against the other.

China, with invaluable lessons learned from its own harrowing experience of lockdown only now gradually unwinding, is reaching out to badly affected nations like Italy and Spain in Europe and Iran in the Middle East.

But, with suspicions about China’s geopolitical intentions rampant, wary eyes are being cast over even such ostensibly goodwill gestures over a health issue, particularly in the US.

Then, there is this seeming one-upmanship among Chinese, American and European parties to see who can come out with a Covid-19 vaccine first.

Under such an inauspicious climate of disjointed global action, the Financial Times has warned in a report that, unlike during the Great Recession of 2008 when there was some sense that the world was in it together, China today no longer has the appetite to save the world economy.

So global economic decoupling may be about to get accelerated in the immediate aftermath of this pandemic, with all the associated risks, uncertainties and maybe opportunities this entails.

Malaysia has hitched itself to the globalisation bandwagon and reaped handsome economic dividends in turn.

What does the post-globalisation world hold for a relatively small economic player like us? Will we be forced to choose among competing economic blocs?

But, first, let us hope the Ides of March will not turn a grimmer reaper for us on the pandemic front.

That the world is not putting up a united front in addressing it is no excuse for us not to do so within our borders.

This temporary movement control order is a relatively small price to pay if we ensured that Covid-19 is licked by month’s end.

The writer views developments in the nation, region and wider world from his vantage point in Kuching, Sarawak

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