Commentary: Johor city dwellers hit hard by MCO but rural communities fare worse

JOHOR BAHRU: The jetty in Sungai Che’ Manan on the western nook of the Tebrau Strait simply throughout from Pasir Laba in Singapore close to the Tuas Second Link is a spot I do know effectively.

Fishermen and clients who are available in to purchase seafood contemporary off the boat are effectively acquainted on this carefully knit neighborhood.

This was as soon as a thriving enterprise, with regulars touring from throughout Johor Bahru some 45km away to purchase chemical-free fish and crustaceans.

Fishing in these areas is an artwork, and the fishermen expert craftsmen of their net-making and acute understanding of the coastal seas, currents wind and climate.

But the arrival of COVID-19 pierced this bubble of enterprise.

Fish left to rot in markets and jetties with fewer buyers. (Photo: Serina Rahman)

Fish left to rot in markets and jetties with fewer patrons. (Photo: Serina Rahman)

During the primary lockdown in March 2020, fishermen suffered from a complete lack of clients as journey restrictions prevented anybody from reaching this stretch of fishing villages.

Enforcement of the Movement Control Orders (MCO) has been stringent.

The nearest city of Gelang Patah is 27km away by the principle coastal street and roadblocks purportedly searching for unlawful immigrants have been arrange in any respect entry roads to the realm.

Markets in different components of Malaysia had been throwing away their catch presently; fishermen weren’t getting paid.

To stop this, the market’s homeowners raised greater than RM60,000 (US$14,790) throughout the first MCO interval (March to May 2020) to pay for seafood and have it despatched to the city poor and homeless in Johor Bahru and Gunung Pulai.

READ: Commentary: Frustrated with tightened COVID-19 restrictions, Johor residents hope this MCO is the last


Almost one yr on, with numerous permutations of MCO in place, the folks of this Tanjung Kupang sub-district (mukim) are weary.

Initially believing that they had been sufficiently remoted, COVID-19 has reached them because it has different rural and remoted areas throughout Malaysia.

An emptier fish market in Sungai Che Manan. (Photo: Serina Rahman)

An emptier fish market in Sungai Che Manan. (Photo: Serina Rahman)

Today, the place has been declared a pink zone with 48 instances, although many are questioning the place and who’ve been contaminated. In small communities like these, information of extreme sickness often unfold like wildfire but residents have heard little particulars of such instances.

Weariness has just lately morphed into anger when the MCO’s extension to Feb 18 was introduced.  

With movies circulating in regards to the ineffectiveness of those prolonged MCOs, individuals are questioning the federal government’s competency and honesty in reporting big every day an infection numbers.

READ: Commentary: KL-Singapore HSR termination risks Malaysia falling behind on transport connectivity

Some are actually going so far as denying the existence of the virus.


The plight of these dwelling past city-limits is extreme.

In many rural villages like this, one should journey greater than 10km to discover a pharmacy, petrol station or different objects past easy every day requirements.

Villagers bemoaned the roadblock imposed for nearly a yr. They are involved with getting fined though their journeys to purchase necessities are authentic. They really feel unfairly focused and burdened as a result of they can not transfer round freely.

There have been a number of reported situations the place enforcement could have overreached. One pupil was fined RM1,000 for not sporting a masks correctly.

Outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Selayang

People sporting protecting masks cross by an space beneath enhanced lockdown, throughout the motion management order as a result of outbreak of the coronavirus illness (COVID-19), in Selayang, Malaysia on Apr 26, 2020. (Photo: REUTERS/Lim Huey Teng)

Then there are the frequent amendments and reversals of the SOPs, leaving many unsure as to what’s permissible. 

There have additionally been viral but unverified movies promising courtroom summons and jail time for breaches.  

One aged girl, Kamariah Samdan, advised me that her associates now fib in the event that they want substances and objects unavailable within the villages; they are saying they should see a physician. She mentioned a number of have been reproached by the police for heading out for every day requirements.

The police inform them that they need to purchase and eat regardless of the villages have as a substitute of going into city. In concern, the residents flip again, largely grateful that they weren’t fined.

READ: Fewer Malaysian confinement nannies in Singapore due to COVID-19, parents face higher costs in hiring

This scenario is analogous elsewhere. In Tenom, Sabah passengers on a bus had been fined RM1,000 every for getting on a bus past the 50 per cent capability restrict.

Passengers, from a village additional inland, had been making an attempt to get to the closest city to purchase meals and medication, but the transportation used was unregistered and subsequently unlawful.

In a village in Pasir Gudang, six youth had been arrested and charged for enjoying sepak takraw earlier in January. A roadblock was instantly arrange inside the village to test on resident actions.

Cars queueing to head into a town in Johor. (Photo: Serina Rahman)

Cars queueing to move right into a city in Johor. close to a roadblock. (Photo: Serina Rahman)

At one other jetty on the outskirts of Gelang Patah, a fisherman, Abeh, was charged RM1,000 for not sporting a masks. He had simply come again from sea, parked his boat and was strolling as much as his motorcycle alone.


In Gelang Patah, plainclothes policemen have fined folks for not correctly utilizing the MySejahtera app used to hint shut contacts.

Residents used to have the ability to write their names and cellphone numbers in a guide if they didn’t have the app. But this selection is not out there. The use of the appliance is now obligatory.

But many villagers don’t carry smartphones. Most who’ve telephones do not need Internet knowledge. Others are IT illiterate. Exceptions have been made for rural and inside areas with out Internet protection but villagers run into issues once they journey into city.

While the policemen are merely finishing up their duties, some well being consultants are questioning the effectiveness of some SOPs – like limiting eating out to teams of two when correct air flow and spacing is extra vital. 

They have requested for an evidence-based method that balances serving to the financial system get better whereas maintaining an infection numbers low.

Listen to Malaysians dealing with a brand new wave of COVID-19 share their very totally different experiences of dwelling by means of the pandemic in Johor, Kuala Lumpur and Sabah:



With the brand new extension of the present MCO, the federal government has promised extra extreme penalties for breaching pointers.

The largest frustrations amongst those that I spoke to lie within the perceived selectivity within the administration of summons.

Officers in uniform have been seen eating in teams at meals stalls when others had been solely allowed to purchase takeout.

While extraordinary residents should not allowed to journey past 10km, politicians, VIPs and the rich have been seen touring throughout districts and states to satisfy their voters, maintain conferences and distribute help.

READ: Commentary: A convenient state of emergency amid challenging times in Malaysia

Photos taken at these occasions usually present maskless VIPs, or with masks on chins, with no social distancing.

In Kota Tinggi, a political photograph alternative inadvertently resulted in a COVID-19 cluster when crowds shaped to obtain flood help.

A current announcement by the Health Minister Adham Baba that ministers had been exempted from the obligatory 10-day quarantine after a global go to was met with public displeasure.

The Health Ministry rapidly clarified that such preparations utilized provided that the minister travelled by non-public jet and didn’t work together in public.

A warung in Johor. (Photo: Serina Rahman)

A warung in Johor. (Photo: Serina Rahman)


The most weak are additionally essentially the most affected.

In the very best of occasions, medical care in Orang Asli (indigenous) villages is sort of non-existent. During a pandemic, these communities wrestle much more.

An enhanced MCO was enforced in a single such Semai village, Kampung Korner, in Perak.

READ: Commentary: The former Malaysian workers in Singapore caught in limbo in Johor

After 12 COVID-19 instances had been first recognized within the village, the complete space was closed with nobody allowed to enter or go away. But the numbers rapidly rose to 52 contaminated individuals.

In Sarawak, a cluster in rural longhouses originated from a relative who returned from Johor for her father’s funeral. She had examined damaging initially, but finally developed signs and examined optimistic.

By then many others caught and unfold the virus to different rural areas. This triggered a number of infections and an MCO being carried out in Kapit, Sibu and Song.

People queueing to buy essentials. (Photo: Serina Rahman)

People queueing to purchase seafood on the Sungai Che’ Manan jetty. (Photo: Serina Rahman)

Many of the rural and concrete poor people work in factories beneath tightly-packed working situations. Daily stories of latest clusters at work locations, with a number of high-profile instances of manufacturing unit clusters in manufacturing and food-processing, have made the information.

Cramped and congested low-income housing don’t assist. An previous of us’ residence and a shelter for younger single moms in Johor Bahru had been additionally declared clusters in January.

In the Baitus Soleha shelter, 42 of 58 residents had been declared optimistic, together with younger pregnant or breast-feeding moms and their infants.

Many different youngsters’s houses and different shelters have been placing out requires assist as funds and sponsors run dry.

READ: Commentary: Malaysia a kinder and stronger society months into COVID-19 fight


The present model of the MCO permits for small and micro-businesses to open and for the 10km journey restrictions to be dropped. These are lifelines for rural communities.

Small pop-up meals outlets assist many earn some money though generally this may be as little as RM50 a day. But it’s a extra reasonably priced supply of meals for a lot of working lengthy hours and do not need the vitality or amenities to cook dinner at residence.

The most up-to-date change in SOPs now permits in-restaurant eating with restrictions on group measurement and social distancing necessities.

After a lot public strain, night time markets have additionally been allowed to open.

But the stress-free of guidelines have raised questions over contemporary inconsistencies within the guidelines. Up till the most recent MCO extension, many puzzled how 10km limits on journey sq. with the actual fact of crowded markets and outlets.

A restaurant in Johor (Photo: Serina Rahman)

Another warung in Johor that was once bustling is now empty. (Photo: Serina Rahman)

While ministers declare the plight of the poor is alleviated by thousands and thousands in authorities help, many within the rural outskirts haven’t benefited from these packages as a result of many do not need Inland Revenue Board or Employment Provident Fund accounts.

Many have by no means needed to pay taxes nor earned secure month-to-month incomes. Requests for different help require travelling to greater city centres even additional away.

Living in these villages in Johor, the outlook is bleak.

The every day wrestle of the poor is just not one thing that decision-makers within the huge cities or within the corridors of energy have ever actually skilled or can perceive.

And with the announcement that MCO restrictions in Johor have been prolonged till Mar 4, COVID-19 is inflicting way more injury than the statistics can ever reveal.

Dr Serina Rahman, Visiting Fellow on the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute, writes from Johor the place she’s in lockdown with the remainder of Malaysia.


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