Kuala Lumpur, 13 August 2020 — A petition initiated by Members of Parliament to reduce the fine for not wearing a face mask in public to RM 250 for first-time offenders, which has the support of over 100 government and opposition members, is a welcome move to reduce the harm and injustice currently being inflicted as a result of efforts to manage and contain the COVID-19 outbreak.
“The reality is that such measures disproportionately punish and cause harm on those who are poor, marginalised and living on the fringes of society,” emphasised Azrul Mohd Khalib, Chief Executive of Galen Centre for Health & Social Policy when commenting on the news from Parliament.
“When there are reports that the poor are scrounging through rubbish bins in search of used and discarded masks, not to protect themselves from infection, but to avoid being fined by law enforcement, you know that implementation and enforcement of the Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases Act 1988 (Act 342) has lost its way.”
“The results from the most recent National Health and Morbidity Survey have shown that more than a third of Malaysians have a low level of health literacy in managing medical issues and understanding disease prevention activities. Yet, we are willing to blame and punish them for not fully understanding the consequences of not wearing a mask. This is wrong.”
“In addition to supporting the parliamentarians’ proposal of a graduated fine covering first-time (preferably RM100 rather than RM250), second and repeat offenders, we call for law enforcement to adopt the mentality and approach of education, deterrence and prevention rather than entrapment and punishment, in the enforcement of the mandatory face mask wearing policy,” Azrul said.
“We need to ensure that our actions and motivation are based on empathy, compassion and kindness. It should not be dependent and driven by fear and discrimination. Decades of experience in dealing with infectious diseases and the recent example of New Zealand, has shown us that you do not necessarily need the stick to get results.”
“Punitive action, particularly those which impose hefty fines and incarceration, should always be a last option.”
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