It’s because yesterday, for the first time since 22 March, I left my flat to go out for no reason except to go out. In that time, I’ve been to a supermarket twice (the second time I was there was the day that, counting back from the announcement, that the security guards in that shopping centre started a period of infection and they, with supreme irony, had taken my temperature to assess me), to my corner shop perhaps a dozen times and to collect something from an office. I once tried to go to a different supermarket but they wanted me to queue, in the sun, for half an hour before they checked my temperature and decided if I could enter. I got back in the car.
I had taken a brief walk two Sundays ago, when the lockdown was first eased to allow exercise. I didn’t like it. There were too many people who seemed to be out without a purpose, hanging around closed retail and food outlets. This was only days after several areas had been cordoned off because of high rates of CoVid-19 amongst migrant labourers. Unlike in some countries, Malaysia has not demonised this group – indeed, it has provided purely statistical information and has not – for want of a better word – blamed them. In fact, mostly the blame has fallen on employers for not making proper provision for the workers.
The statistics are stark, though. In the city centre, this is the group where far more than half of the cases are to be found. It is therefore discomforting to walk out to find that almost all the people in the streets are from that obviously high risk group.
I went home and hid for another two weeks.
Which brings us to yesterday when I took another trip out. Once more, there was a preponderance of the same people – but what was equally noticeable was that, as retail outlets were opened, there were far more people gathering in the streets. There’s a road called Bukit Bintang. One end is like the shabby end of London’s Oxford Street but worse. Then at a crossroads it changes, almost like another world for the comfortably off.
All up and down the shabby stretch there were groups of men standing chatting, touching as they talked, almost blocking the pavement so that it was impossible to stay more than a metre away from them. These are pure social gatherings of the type that are supposed to not be happening.
I did the shopping that I’d told myself was an excuse to go out and took an alternative route home, meeting a friend whose restaurant business was already under great pressure in January as the Chinese tourist trade dried up and other people started to be wary about being out. Their usually crowded premises have a few tables and only a couple of diners at some of them. I’ve eaten there for 20 years, since before I moved to Malaysia. It’s always been jam-packed.