As I am writing this, Malaysia is in the midst of easing its Movement Control Order (MCO), a decree that forces the entire nation to be on partial lockdown since 18 March 2020, except those who work in essential services. The MCO restricts the mobility of people in halting the spread of the novel coronavirus, labelled as COVID-19, which infected more than 6,000 people and claimed over 100 lives in Malaysia alone. At least, during the MCO, those in Malaysia who remain healthy and located within less risky zones are allowed to shop for groceries from stores that sell essential items or obtain medicines from pharmacies, including doing quick banking.
Malaysia, along with the whole world, has never experienced anything similar to this in its modern history. The COVID-19 pandemic, which had the world undergo lockdown in some form or another, consequently decimates the travel and tourism industry, particularly the hospitality, aviation and retail sectors, resulting in closure of businesses, loss of employment and income. While Malaysia hopes to fully end the MCO by June, many parts of the world might still be reeling until December. As such, 2020 could just be a lost year. Let’s pray that 2021 will treat us better…
Honestly, for travellers like us, lockdowns make us feel like our wings have been clipped and our wanderlust spirits trapped. We feel like we are not just being caged up physically, but also mentally because we draw so much inspiration from unrestrained travelling and exploring. This whole ordeal answers the question “how does it feel to be under house arrest?”, despite being surrounded by creature comforts like the internet, refrigerator stocked with food, home amenities, and entertainment options within a thermally comfortable space. However, at the end of the day, it is still a small price to pay because we don’t want to unknowingly risk our lives and the people around us if we were infected, and eventually overwhelm the nation’s health care system.
Though we are pining for the chance to travel far and wide, the MCO and the pandemic also teach us to never again take the smaller things for granted: having an early morning walk around the neighbourhood and park to re-energise the body; reading an engrossing publication under the trees while admiring the clear sky and listening to the birds chirping; personally visiting and connecting with family and friends (minus technological interfaces and distractions) over meals; and escaping to naturally lush environments to remain centred. From the constant barrage of news surfacing on the channels regarding those who neither have a place to call home nor the means to buy food during lockdown, we also become more sensitive to the fact that not everybody is lucky. Such news should move us to become more grateful, and possibly nudge us to help in some way, at least donate to legitimate charities online. On top of that, with less movement and activities taking place, humans emit less carbon into the atmosphere and produce less industrial waste, making the air cleaner and the oceans less polluted. Seems that mother earth is taking this time to heal and regenerate when humans are hunkered down.
On the other hand, I am sure that many are already plotting their next getaway after being cooped up for weeks or even months. Travellers should seize this opportunity to learn more about what has been going on in their backyards and under their noses, which might have been ignored all this while. Since we are based in Kuala Lumpur, Gaya Travel Magazine team members encourage travellers to first travel domestically to get the country’s economy going, as long as they can avoid huge crowds and practice good hygiene. We are also anticipating Tourism Malaysia to launch irresistible domestic travel packages once the MCO is entirely lifted, despite the cancellation of Visit Malaysia 2020 campaign. I for one have been itching to hit the highlands to escape the tropical heat of the lowlands; perhaps Janda Baik in Pahang is a good start.
It is also foreseen that as the pandemic abates, international travel will begin with regional proximity tourism, for example travellers from Peninsular Malaysia might choose destinations in Sumatera and southern Thailand, while travellers from Sabah and Sarawak might flock to Brunei and Kalimantan. As I scan the regional map, I become curious about Takengon in Sumatera and Koh Lipe in Satun. I guess I have to wait until later in the year since experts predict the number of infection peaks in July 2020 for Indonesia, while Thailand has just started reopening on gradual basis. Perhaps COVID-19 is a blessing in disguise because it forces travellers to consider destinations closer to home. But of course, if the situation were to considerably improve and you have the means to travel further, by all means, go ahead, as long as you stay alert, safe and healthy.
See you in the next issue. Happy reading!
JUHAN KAMARUDDIN @ JEREMY KHALIL
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