Movement restrictions in KL not hard to live with - for a homebody

LIFE AT A STANDSTILL: Many governments have declared their countries off-limits and are advising residents to stay at home. Our correspondents in Washington, Manila and Kuala Lumpur give first-person accounts of what life is like in the cities they are living in.

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Malaysia announced a movement control order on March 16 to curb the Covid-19 outbreak. The Straits Times' Trinna Leong finds out what it's like on day one.

Malaysia's restrictions on movement may bother many people who are used to going out for meals, hanging out with friends or watching movies at the cinema, but staying at home makes me content.

As a self-proclaimed hermit, I am a strong believer in social distancing. The greater the distance, the better, since that means fewer awkward conversations for me. Cabin fever? It is a term that was probably invented by social butterflies.

Streets are a lot emptier, definitely. The last time I saw Chinatown this desolate was during the Malay Dignity rally back in 2015, when the police closed down the tourist spot in anticipation of protesters streaming in.

Elsewhere around the city, cars are still on the road, but there are fewer than usual. This is the kind of traffic Kuala Lumpur natives see during festive seasons, when most people have left for their hometowns.

It has been less than a week since Malaysia's new government imposed movement restrictions for two weeks in the hope of flattening the curve of the coronavirus' spread.

The authorities have asked the country's 32 million people to stay at home after Malaysia recorded more than 100 coronavirus cases a day for the past week.

The spike in cases has been attributed to a religious gathering last month at Masjid Jamek Sri Petaling in Kuala Lumpur, attended by around 16,000 people.

Last Wednesday, the first day of the restrictions, some residents flouted rules about not dining at eateries or gathering in public.

The government has warned that if residents continue to disobey regulations, the restricted movement order may be extended beyond March 31. The army is stepping in to help enforce the order today.

The police, frustrated with the many who continue to ignore the regulations, have warned that those who fail to adhere to the movement restriction order can be fined up to RM1,000 (S$329) or imprisoned for up to six months, or both.

Many of those who repeatedly ignore the movement controls, as seen on videos shared on WhatsApp, appear to be elderly.

I can relate, though. My retiree father initially took the restriction order lightly. It took time and patience to carefully explain to him how the disease spreads and that senior citizens are a vulnerable group.

I know I am not alone in this. Friends have expressed frustration about having to convince their parents to stay at home.

Life is not normal at the moment, that much is certain.

Once the army steps in today, all normalcy - as Malaysians know it - ends.

While I have coped decently, having gone out only to report on the situation and to get supplies, I know many others who have trouble managing their free time in confined spaces.

Friends have complained over WhatsApp that time is passing too slowly.

So far, I have been adept at finding ways to occupy myself. Besides work, I have spring cleaning and book reading on my to-do list, on top of my regular catching-up on Korean variety shows or dramas for about 30 minutes each night before bedtime.

There are also webinars I have signed up for to upgrade my knowledge on verification tools, debunking falsehoods and news gathering in times of Covid-19.

There are also tips shared on Facebook and Twitter for things to do while staying at home, such as home workouts, Marie Kondo-ing your living space, making TikTok videos or contributing to organisations that help the needy.

To be fair, the friends who complain are single, or married without children. At this time, mothers are probably the busiest lot.

In a neighbourhood WhatsApp group, mothers are saying the restrictions have kept them more occupied than usual. Besides cooking several meals a day, cleaning chores and doing the laundry are sucking up their time.

I live with my parents, so I can attest to that.

To keep our sanity intact, we can always find ways to entertain ourselves if we put our minds to it. At least, that is my personal belief.

Also, Netflix has released season two of Kingdom. For those who have not heard of or watched this Korean drama, give it a try. As one of my friends said, it is better than The Walking Dead. People turned into zombies by a plague during the Joseon era - what is there not to love about it?

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on March 22, 2020, with the headline Movement restrictions in KL not hard to live with - for a homebody. Subscribe