A world under lock and key: how Covid-19 movement controls are affecting people in Malaysia and the United Kingdom

Malaysian officers patrolling a Covid-19 checkpoint. Photo: Samsul Said/Bloomberg

As the latest in a string of lockdown extensions around the world, the Malaysian government has concluded that its Movement Control Order (MCO) must continue until 18 February 2021.

The MCO, intended to slow the spread of Covid-19 in Malaysia, includes restrictions such as limiting travel beyond a ten-kilometre radius, and the permittance of a single visitor.

Learn more about the Malaysian Movement Control Order (MCO) in this audio clip

Many locals feel that, despite the necessity of the order, morale has begun to take a nose-dive, as people grow to become ever more frustrated with what has become a cycle of perceived normality, followed by periods of lockdown. For some, the extension of the MCO marks over a month of separation from their loved ones, further reinforcing feelings of loneliness among the Malaysian populace.

“Since I’m working from my room, it feels very isolating,” says Haziq Haszeri, an associate economist at the Malaysian national bank, Bank Negara. He remarks that, especially for newer entrants to the workforce such as himself, working from home lacks the “building of personal and professional relationships” with his colleagues.

The lack of comradery, Haziq explains, is difficult to overcome, especially given the newness of his work environment.

“It’s been six weeks since I’ve hung out with my friends after work,” says Haziq, in reference to what was once a weekly ritual before the introduction of the MCO in December 2020. The MCO, which has also severely damaged many of Malaysia’s smaller businesses, is renewed or concluded on a biweekly basis, meaning that for Haziq and others like him, several weeks likely remain before the realistic possibility of an in-person meetup with anyone outside of his own household.

Staying home has made many around the world feel isolated

In the United Kingdom, the extension of London’s lockdown following the discovery of a mutated variant of the Covid-19 virus, means that many will face similar feelings of isolation.

“Things only got really rough for me after I had to quarantine,” says Nicole Wang, a Dutch law student currently completing an internship in London. Nicole, who tested positive for Covid-19 following the contamination of a flatmate a week ago, remarks that despite the closure of most non-essential stores, and the limitation of movement as a result of the lockdown, it was her self-isolation that truly brought home the isolation.

Staying home is one thing, notes Nicole, but remaining alone in her room, despite its understandable necessity, has made matters even worse.

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