Movement Control Order (MCO) - A Viable Legal Mechanism in the Management of COVID-19 Pandemic in Malaysia?

Movement Control Order (MCO) - A Viable Legal Mechanism in the Management of COVID-19 Pandemic in Malaysia?

Suzana Muhamad Said, Aini Aman, Mohd Rohaizat Hassan, Omkar Dastane
Copyright: © 2022 |Pages: 15
DOI: 10.4018/jcad.315650
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COVID-19 has caused a global health disaster accompanied by economic and social unpredictability. This study evaluates the legislative measures implemented in Malaysia throughout Phases 1 through 7 of the Movement Control Order in an effort to battle the pandemic and stem its spread. The narrative review applies a socio-legal analysis with reference to primary sources, including Malaysian legal documents and legislation. Findings suggest that the law complements other preventive efforts implemented by the government to break the chain of virus transmission, especially the Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases Act of 1988. This study illustrates that the public interest must trump individual rights in order to not only respond to this crisis, but also recover and prosper in the fight against the pandemic. In addition, it is recommended that enforcing a clearer set of international MCO laws within regional security cooperation will contribute to the development of a stronger global community with a shared future, as well as promote international law and neighborhood diplomacy.
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“Like science, emerging viruses know no country” (Morse, 1993). No one foresaw that the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) would spread rapidly across the globe in 2020 (Zhou, 2020). The COVID-19 pandemic caught many countries off guard. The terms “isolation” and “quarantine” were used every day. The pandemic had serious impacts on public health services, economies, social interactions, and social security. Business activities were interrupted and stalled. Recession is knocking on every country’s door.

COVID-19 was first recorded in Wuhan, District of Huabei, China, in December 2019. On January 30, 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO, 2020) declared that the outbreak constituted a public health emergency of international concern. On March 11, 2020, it was announced that COVID-19 would be categorized as a pandemic.

Elbe (2006) and Lakoff (2015) noted that infectious diseases were “a threat not only to public health, but to social, economic, and political stability.” During the early stages of the pandemic (December 2019), COVID-19 recorded more than three million cases and more than 230,000 deaths worldwide in less than four months. The number of casualties increased every day. In several nations, lockdowns and quarantines were enacted in response to the rising number of cases, stoking public anxiety. On January 25, 2020, China restricted the movement of its 56 million people. This was the same day that Malaysia recorded its first case of the virus.

A strong public health system can “address massive health threats with the collective responses they require” (De Ceukelaire & Bodini, 2020). As the pandemic unfolded, many public health systems were predicted to fail due to a privatisation of public health, which lacks coordination and adequate collective responses. For example, in the early stages of the pandemic, Italy was working to strengthen its health system through the regionalisation of healthcare. This effort to privatise its national healthcare service actually led to significant delays in adopting a coherent measure to contain COVID-19 (De Ceukelaire & Bodini, 2020).

Lessons learned from the H1N1 influenza pandemic highlighted that vulnerable groups were most affected. This includes populations with co-morbidities like diabetes, obesity, asthma, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

Apart from the importance of strong, resilient public health services, the enforcement of public health law is also vital to break the chain of infection. Under public health, the role of law can be viewed as a proactive, preventive, or reactive measure (McKibbin & Fernando, 2020). The WHO report, “Advancing the Right to Health: The Vital Role of Law,” aimed to raise awareness about the role of public health laws in reforming the law. Improving access to vaccinations and contraceptives was one preventive measure. The reactive role of public health law includes facilitating access to treatment and using emergency powers in reaction to disease outbreaks (McKibbin & Fernando, 2020). For example, in the United Kingdom, movement control (or lockdown) “constituted a key feature of governmental efforts” to cope with the initial stages of COVID-19. This effort required a high level of public compliance (Halliday et al., 2022). Even when legal compliance was primarily on the legitimacy of the law, there were concerns due to the public sense of obligation and personal health vulnerability among others (Halliday et al., 2022). Malaysia was no exception to this impacted aftermath.

In some instances, governments attempt to utilise the legislation to alter the customary behaviour of an entire society during times of crisis. It is crucial to understand the effects of such enforcement and evaluate compliance with existing legal frameworks. In contrast to earlier research, which tends to examine adherence to behavioural restraints or variables that inspire the general population to comply with the law, the current analysis focuses on how lockdown was influenced by the existing legal framework. Thus, by exploring the role of law and legal culture in Malaysia, this work contributes to the overall research endeavour of determining the effect of legal measures on the public during the lockdown.

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