Silver linings for Malaysia even as Covid-19 dominates for a second year

·4-min read
A Malaysian flag is pictured at Dataran Merdeka in Kuala Lumpur September 15, 2021. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa
A Malaysian flag is pictured at Dataran Merdeka in Kuala Lumpur September 15, 2021. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa

KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 28 — As Covid-19 continues to loom large, 2021 was a year marked by heartbreaking stories of lost jobs, homes, and loved ones.

Yet, as the proverbial saying goes, every cloud has a silver lining.

In that spirit, Malay Mail looks at some of the issues that have seen a change for the better in pandemic times.

Mental health awareness

Throughout the year, there were stark reminders that Malaysians from all strata of society were struggling not only financially, but also psychologically.

Earlier this year, the Health Ministry said its Psychosocial Support Helpline received a staggering 109,806 calls for help related to mental health issues between January 1 and June 18.

“The causes identified are loss of employment, no source of income, family conflicts, interpersonal relationship problems, stigma and lack of access to aid services,” said former health minister Datuk Seri Adham Baba on June 25.

Then, in July, the police reported that 468 people had committed suicide between January and May — an average of three people a day.

For comparison, 631 suicides were recorded in the whole of 2020, and 609 in 2021.

Non-governmental organisations, politicians and the public intensified their push for better mental health care, and the government listened.

When Budget 2022 was announced in October, it showed that RM70 million had been set aside to address mental health issues via enhanced support, counselling and psychosocial services, as well as increasing advocacy programmes.

Budget 2021 had only allocated RM23 million for a similar mental health-related fund, which was roughly 66 per cent less than Budget 2022.

Furthermore, the government has said it would decriminalise attempted suicide.

On October 7, Deputy Health Minister II Datuk Aaron Ago Dagang made the announcement in Parliament that the home minister and the attorney general have agreed to abolish Section 309 of the Penal Code.

The law punishes those who attempt suicide with a maximum one-year jail sentence, or a fine, or both.

As a whole, mental health issues have received increased awareness on a global scale ever since the start of pandemic-driven lockdowns, and the Malaysian government has similarly taken positive steps to help those in need of care.

A helping hand

A white flag is pictured at the Tanjung Tokong fishing jetty in George Town July 2, 2021. — Picture by Sayuti Zainudin
A white flag is pictured at the Tanjung Tokong fishing jetty in George Town July 2, 2021. — Picture by Sayuti Zainudin

The pandemic has also brought to light one of the best sides of Malaysians — the willingness to help one another in times of great need.

The “white flag” movement that started in late June was one example of that giving attitude.

The movement was birthed after four weeks of what was called a “total lockdown” or the movement control order 3.0 (MCO 3.0) throughout June, putting the final nail in the coffin for many family’s finances despite government aid.

Reacting to the situation, Internet users began making social media posts with the hashtag #benderaputih — which means “white flag” in Malay — asking those in need to hang up a white cloth to alert others to their plight.

The movement quickly gained traction and countless families were seen raising these “white flags”, especially those from lower income groups whose main source of income were microbusinesses or jobs involving physical labour.

Many volunteers were quick to respond, helping deliver food and other necessities to those going through these tough times.

A similar scene was also seen during the floods that devastated Selangor, Pahang and Terengganu starting December 17.

After the floods, videos circulating on social media showed people of all races and religions chipping in to make sure the victims had food to eat and a route to safety. In Hulu Langat, non-Malaysians were seen lending a hand, too.

Families together again

Abdul Jalal Mohd Tahir, 58, is hugged by his wife, Khadijah Ahmad, 54, and their son Mikayl Abdul Jalal, 22 after the two arrived from Singapore at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport, November 29, 2021. — Bernama pic
Abdul Jalal Mohd Tahir, 58, is hugged by his wife, Khadijah Ahmad, 54, and their son Mikayl Abdul Jalal, 22 after the two arrived from Singapore at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport, November 29, 2021. — Bernama pic

As the year was full of travel restrictions, many, especially those living abroad, have not been able to see their families for months.

This was especially true for Malaysians working in Singapore, as the island nation closed its borders abruptly in March 2020, leaving thousands stranded on both sides.

Although people could still cross the borders through a lengthy process involving a few weeks of quarantine, most did not dare as they would be at risk of losing their jobs due to the long waiting period or the possibility of changing restrictions that could stop them re-entering the country they are working in.

But this changed with the launch of the Malaysia-Singapore Vaccinated Travel Lane (VTL) on November 29, allowing fully vaccinated Malaysians and Singaporeans to seamlessly travel between the two countries.

The first week saw approximately 5,000 people use the land-travel VTL, while another 2,771 people travelled from Singapore to Malaysia via air — many who had tear-jerking reunions with their long missed family members.

However, it is important to note that the VTL has been put on hold from December 23 to January 2022, as Singapore mulls how to deal with the unknown threats of the Covid-19 Omicron variant.

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