Makan-makan with our New Guests: Covid19

Updated: Jun 17, 2020

By: Kenneth Tan


As we individually emerge from MCO hibernation, we have all been reminded to consider how we as citizens will live in a post-lockdown world.


Countries which initially thought they had achieved control have very quickly faced a resurgence as their peoples started returning to old routines, just because a few thoughtless individuals lost sight of their earlier concern towards their fellow citizens.

More important than ever, the standard of public hygiene must be raised higher, encouraged and enforced by all authorities, from the Ministry of Health to the council enforcement officer.

In Malaysia, we have always been proud of our hawker and street food culture. Some have even posited that a little bit of roadside dirt is what makes our hawker offerings special. Our love for tasty food is so great that hundreds continued to break the MCO for days after it came into force, thereby endangering our country, just to satisfy that regular urge for nasi lemak and char koay teow.

Covid19 has and will continue to force us to re-evaluate our passion for food and the dangers of poor hygiene. We can no longer afford to allow vendors and their workers with low health literacy to carelessly handle dishes and utensils which are shared by hundreds in the community. In the past, poor food practices meant that the worst consumers had to suffer was individual diarrhea. Now, it will only take one infected stall owner or server to spread illness, suffering and death to hundreds, then to thousands, in a matter of days.

The Covid19 virus can be found in saliva, tears and fecal matter. Have you ever wondered what facility is available to the roadside chef and server after they attend to a call of nature before the busy lunch hour in sweltering heat?

The virus can be found on plastic, glass and steel surfaces: the very materials that define all the forks, spoons, chopsticks, cups and plates in Malaysian eateries. It is not destroyed just by wiping with a wet rag, that time-honoured action which we see repeated in roadside stalls through to coffee shops.

Authorities and organizations must step up to ensure food is served only in spaces with proper water and sanitation. Sinks, clean water, detergents and soap must be readily available to all food preparers, vendors and servers. Places without these basic requirements cannot be allowed to operate. To turn a blind eye to these now critical requirements is tantamount to aiding and abetting the spread of disease.

If we survive this pandemic, let us not allow the diligence and awareness created during the MCO to be undone by a return to old habits and old ways of doing things. Covid19, our unwelcome new guest, will be joining us at every makan-makan.


Kenneth Tan is presently the Chairman of the Selangor Philharmonic Orchestra and loves so-so art, good books, great music and incredible food creations.

The views, information or opinions expressed are solely those of the guest contributor and do not necessarily represent the policy or position of SeriusAh, its management and employees. SeriusAh is not responsible and does not verify for accuracy any of the information of contributed columns. Guest columns do not constitute professional advice.

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