PETALING JAYA, July 25: The head of a think tank has questioned the wisdom of using the threat of harsh punishment to ensure compliance with SOPs set by the government in its fight against Covid-19.

Azrul Mohd Khalib, CEO of the Galen Centre for Health and Social Policy, asked whether the government could provide proof that long jail sentences or stiff fines would improve compliance.

“While it is tempting to use instruments of state such as fines and imprisonment to enforce measures such as home quarantines or compliance with SOPs, there is a problem with trying to strike fear or intimidate people into compliance,” he told FMT.

The use of fear could bring about discrimination and the blaming of victims, he said.

He also said the most likely to suffer strict punishments would be the poor.

“They will likely be jailed because they can’t afford to pay high fines. How does that help? We don’t need more people in jail as it increases vulnerability to infection.”

He also disagreed with putting the onus on businesses to ensure compliance.

“Businesses are already facing hardship through the loss of clients and customers. Many are facing closure and are struggling to survive.”

He said the government should instead improve its support of businesses to help them comply with the new regulations.

“Our dependence on the stick to beat others into submission rather than the carrot can prove to be our undoing,” he added.

He blamed the government for the complacency shown by members of the public.

“We are lulled into a false sense of security by the seemingly low reported data and the false perception that the cases largely involve non-nationals,” he said.

“Officials tell people to follow SOPs, but they and their staff don’t. We can see on social media that they don’t wear face masks at meetings and during gatherings or while travelling in airplanes.”

He proposed that the government increase the health literacy rate to ensure compliance.

“We have a low health literacy rate in this country, as demonstrated by the recent National Health and Morbidity Survey,” he said.

“Punishing people for something they do not fully understand is wrong,” he said. “We had not done enough to improve health literacy before the Covid-19 outbreak.”

Senior Minister for Security Ismail Sabri Yaakob recently said half of the Malaysians who were supposed to quarantine themselves at home had flouted the SOPs set by the government.

He warned violators that they could be jailed for up to six months or fined RM1,000.


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