KUALA LUMPUR (March 18): The government led by Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin enforced a movement control order effective midnight yesterday. Besides essential services as listed by the government, all other activities are to shut down.
This means millions of Malaysians will have to remain at home or work from home and only engage in minimal trips outside, essentially confining themselves to the sundry shops or supermarkets to stock up. This entails a major shift in our lifestyle.
The Edge decided to catch up with prominent lawyer Rosli Dahlan, who many believe was the author of the "Thank you letter by Patient#33".
We asked him how it was like to be quarantined at the Sungai Buloh Hospital and how Malaysians can manage in the next 14 days, his views on the new cases connected to the Tabligh ijtimak meeting two weeks ago, and other possible causes resulting in the sharpest increase in Covid19 cases in this region.
The Edge: Are you the author known as Patient #33?
Rosli: I think what's more important is to understand that the article highlighted to us the many unknown sacrifices of our medical and healthcare givers, that they deserve our commendation and appreciation at this time; that the Health Ministry is doing its best to combat Covid19 and we should applaud and support them; that we have one of the best medical care (providers) in the world. Until yesterday, no one had died.
Sadly, Malaysia reported two deaths today. The first in Johor Bahru and the other in Sarawak, which shows the seriousness of this epidemic and how things can change dramatically.
I think the message of that article is that we have to incentivise our medical caregivers as they are exposed to this virus daily. We start by acknowledging and appreciating their sacrifices.
The Edge: Yes, but the public wants to know if you are Patient #33 and if it's true that you are one of the Urban Development Authority (UDA) board members that had attended a long meeting with #26 last Feb 24, which subsequently led to all these attendees being infected.
Rosli: All that is true. But as I said, let's focus on the seriousness of the battle against Covid19. We just had two deaths. The reports suggest that Malaysia will peak in 2-3 months. The big question is, are we ready for that?
The Edge: Alright, then tell us your experience as a patient who had undergone quarantine in hospital. Which hospital were you quarantined at and how was it?
Rosli: I was quarantined for 13 days in Sungai Buloh Hospital. From the consultants to the doctors to the nurses [and] right down to the medical assistants, they were just marvellous. They were very professional and treated all of us with patience and compassion.
I know this for a fact as we have an UDA chat group that compared notes on what's happening in the different wards of the same hospital and our other colleagues quarantined in other hospitals. It was that same touching story of dedicated medical care givers in all these government hospitals. They are indeed the unsung heroes in this country's battle against Covid 19. We better recognise that, if we expect the situation to peak in 2-3 months’ time.
The Edge: Was it difficult being quarantined? How did you keep yourself occupied those 13 days?
Rosli: Firstly, no one wants to be quarantined. But we must accept and be responsible about it. This is especially so if we suspect we are positive and are tested positive.
It was initially very hard for me because I did not know that I was infected. The moment I knew, I immediately went to get tested in Sungai Buloh. But by then, rival legal firms had posted emails that were viralled almost on a daily basis naming and shaming me as if my new firm is a pariah and I was the proverbial leper to be shunned and cast away.
I felt it was deliberately done for business expediency. I never expected the legal profession to behave that way, but there it was rearing its ugly head in the most vicious way at the worst possible time.
The Edge: What did you do to defend yourself?
Rosli: I couldn't and I didn't. People were just interested in sensationalising things. After overcoming my sadness, I decided to tell the facts as they were to those who asked me. I felt they should know the full truth that I was infected and tested positive. I told this to clients, friends, business associates, my neighbourhood chat group and other chat groups and to anyone who asked me.
The Edge: Did that do you any good?
Rosli: Yes! I was very comforted that they were very sympathetic and supportive of my plight. They felt I was truthful and honest and did not try to deflect from the issue. They saw my answers as very factual of what had happened and that no one was to blame especially (as) they have all known me to be a responsible community person who would never knowingly infect anyone.
I must mention this — the Kuala Lumpur Bar chairperson issued a very fair statement to alert all those who attended the KL Bar meeting but did it in a way that did not name or shame me as done earlier by other rival firms. I appreciated her for that. This restored my faith in people, in our basic decency.
The Edge: Is the situation different now with the “movement control order”?
Rosli: The situation is different now in the sense that it affects all Malaysians, not just a segment of society. There is no more finger pointing or fault finding. We are all in this together. The government has shown seriousness by issuing the order, and we must respond positively to that so that the Covid 19 curve can be flattened. That is what the ministry is trying to do and this requires our support.
Today (March 17) we recorded two deaths. That is very sad. This can happen to anyone as they can be unknowingly infected. The point is we must take precautions and listen to the medical experts.
The Edge: Tell us how you coped. How did you keep yourself occupied and what would you advise others to do during this period?
Rosli: I was quarantined in a hospital, not at home, not in a familiar environment. That's the main difference.
Even so, I was fortunate to share a room with my wife, whom I had unknowingly infected until she too tested positive. It was not a big room but I was grateful already that the hospital administration accommodated my request to be with her as she was asthmatic.
So, I decided to keep myself occupied by playing chambermaid, cleaning the room and toilet and making the bed and serving my wife 24-7 for 13 days. I am said to have obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and it was the perfect thing to do — clean things up. I think I have also earned brownie points with my wife!
After doing the cleaning, I would answer emails. Most evenings I would spend [time] reading. I would also exchange motivational messages with my UDA group and others [whom] I became aware had been quarantined at home or in hospital — some connected to me, mostly not. I just wanted to motivate them.
I would advise all Malaysians to be positive. Do not feel depressed. It's not the end of the world. You are enjoying home leave! If I can find useful things to do from a hospital room, surely you can do a lot more things from your home. For a start, clean up your house! And I mean that both literally and metaphorically!
The Edge: What are some of the lessons that you can share with us?
Rosli: Many. Firstly, it is in these trying times that you see our humanity come to the fore. If anything, I would like to say that we Malaysians are a united people who share the same dreams, the same fears and pains.
During my quarantine, I discovered our basic human decency regardless of race or religion. This is very rewarding to me as I think I have come out of this a better person. And I believe this lockdown will also bring the best of our qualities to the fore. This will unite us in spite of the turbulence in our political environment.
The Edge: Do you think we are doing enough and can the system handle a Covid 19 surge from an event like the Tabligh Ijtimak?
Rosli: I think all religious groups must listen to the Health Ministry, to the government. They must not be rash or negligent in believing that by their prayers alone, they would be protected from an epidemic.
To the Tabligh and to Muslims, I say this — learn history and learn about the Ta'un Amwas during Saidina Umar's (Second caliph) time when hundreds of the Prophet's closest companions died. They dealt with it scientifically even as they prayed. So, please don't defile our Islamic history with ignorance.
The two deaths involved a Muslim of Jemaah Tabligh in Johor Bahru and a Christian pastor in Sarawak. What does this tell us? Whether you are Christian, Muslim, any religion or atheist, Covid19 makes no distinction if it were to infect you. We pray for these two souls and their family and may God bless them.
So, please listen and abide by the directions given by the government so that we will persevere as a nation of one people to overcome this adversity and turn it into an opportunity for unity.
Rosli and his wife are among the 49 who were discharged as of yesterday.