Malaysia: Exercise self-discipline, urges Queen

Team spirit: Tengku Puteri Afzan Aminah Hafizatullah (right), daughter of Their Majesties, lending a helping hand in the kitchen as they prepare food for frontliners.
PHOTO: The Star/Asia News Network

KUALA LUMPUR - As the movement control order (MCO) enters its third phase, Raja Permaisuri Agong Tunku Azizah Aminah Maimunah Iskandariah has made a renewed call to Malaysians to exercise greater self-discipline.

"We have gone through the MCO for a month together now."

"We are now at the most crucial period to end the transmission chain, so let's do it well together."

"I know we can with continued self-discipline. The majority of Malaysians have been faithfully cooperative, " she said in an online interview.

Narrating her experience when she underwent self-quarantine for 14 days at the palace until April 9, Her Majesty said she never imagined that she and the Yang di-Pertuan Agong Al-Sultan Abdullah Ri'ayatuddin Al-Mustafa Billah Shah would have had to go through the experience.

"Covid-19 does not pick its victims according to race, religion, status or age. We had to go into quarantine after one of the King's bodyguards and a butler tested positive. As a bodyguard and police officer, he was fit as a fiddle. So the virus affects everyone and not just the old and sick," she said, adding that they had no symptoms.

Tunku Azizah said the palace kitchen had to be shut down immediately with sanitation carried out when 20 staff tested positive for the virus.

There were over 100 workers at the Istana complex and they had to be quarantined.

"Over 90 staff were packed off to a hotel in Kepong. They had to wear gowns provided by the hospital to the designated quarantine hotel," she said.

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She revealed that some staff were tested positive after they were quarantined. The staff of Istana Negara were first tested on March 2 with more tests carried out subsequently.She said as an ordinary human being, she felt fear when she heard of cases involving the staff.

"My daughters and I had spent a lot of time in the kitchen, cooking and teaching the chefs my recipes."

"We were in the same kitchen with the chefs cooking for the frontliners, from morning till evening."

"Then some of them tested positive," she said, adding that she was very worried.

The royal couple were then directed to be self-quarantined with strict orders of no contact whatsoever with any palace staff.

"That meant we had to clean the toilet and make the bed as we were talking of 14 days."

"The King even wiped the furniture with anti-bacterial wipes."

"With the palace kitchen shut, we ordered food delivery with the food then placed on a tray outside the door of our rooms."

"But we didn't whine or express dissatisfaction as we understood that this was a procedure for the good of everyone, including the staff who attend to us, " the Queen said.

She joked to the King during their self-quarantine that "although both of us were born in palaces, now that we have become King and Queen, there were no staff in Istana Negara to serve us."

"What an irony. The key word at the Istana is now 'self-service'," she quipped.

Her Majesty said both of them mopped their separate rooms, adding that the King even dusted his room to make sure it was clean.

"Our four children had to remain in their own rooms, so we could only communicate by phone. I missed them so much and we began to realise that the little hugs must no longer be taken for granted."

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"We spent more time praying and simply, getting closer to God. Allah has a reason for everything. We prayed that Allah would help all of us and to help us remain strong."

"I believe Malaysians of all faiths are doing the same by making a compassionate plea to our Creator to help us, " she added.

She said occasionally, she peered out from her room door to greet the King from a far.

"To keep myself occupied, I did a lot of embroidery work," she added.

She said like the King, she watched a lot of movies "until we didn't know what to watch anymore".

The King, she added, also caught up on his work with files brought to his room.

"One of my children, who is back from the UK, was so bored that he played golf in the room. Strangely, we all got used to the private breathing space although it started off as solitary confinement."

"I have read news on what the rakyat is going through, especially daily wage earners. Our hearts are with them, but please be patient as it is important that we all stay alive for ourselves and our loved ones."

She described herself as easygoing and that those who knew her well would know that "I don't fancy an entourage to follow me everywhere".

She shared that at the height of the quarantine, there were only a few workers, including the guards, at the palace.

"There were no drivers and no bodyguards. Tuanku asked them to stay at home."

Her Majesty said as an avid cook, she missed going to the kitchen.

"Now I have gone back to my private kitchen to cook something for the family."

"The palace kitchen has remained sealed off. It has been disinfected."

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"Previously, my staff and I used the kitchen to deliver food for the frontliners, for the hospital staff, Health Ministry staff."

"I missed cooking for our heroes the most. That's the least I can do."

A well-versed cook, Tunku Azizah has written two recipe books based on traditional Pahang cuisine, and had in the past cooked hot meals for flood evacuees in the state during the monsoon season.

She has also donated 250 hospital beds on behalf of the royal family to several hospitals in the country, including the Sungai Buloh Hospital.

She said the King also consented to allow exhausted medical staff to use the sofa and beds at the Royal ward.

The royal couple also announced that they would forego six months of emoluments to assist the government's financial burden.

She advised Muslims to pray at home during the Ramadan period, saying praying at the mosques during the holy month was not compulsory.

"We need to make some sacrifices."

"If you test negative today, it does not mean you will remain negative forever."

"You might be already positive and yet you are not aware of it because no tests were carried out," she said.

Likewise, she said taking temperatures did not mean one was negative. A person could be positive with no symptoms.

"The person could be the spreader without him or her knowing," she said.

Her Majesty said it was important that every Malaysian practised social distancing and remained hygienic.

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Tunku Azizah said the virus would not just disappear into thin air even after the MCO was lifted and that Malaysians still needed to protect themselves.

Asked what more she would like to do to help, she said: "I would like to be a frontliner, but the authorities have shot it down."

"I said, 'I can't even go out and distribute food?' They replied with a big no and a reminder of the MCO that no one is exempted, but I said I am a Girl Guide. They still said NO."

The down-to-earth Queen is the Royal Patron of the Friends of the Asia Pacific World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts (WAGGGS) and Benefactor of the Olave Baden-Powell Society.

She has been actively involved with Girl Guides for decades.

"So the authorities politely hinted to me to stick to cooking for frontliners daily as my contribution but for now, I can't do it, unfortunately," she laughed.

She said the palace "has remained closed" except for some essential staff.

"The MCO also includes the palace," she added.

She praised Health Ministry director-general Datuk Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah, doctors and nurses for putting their lives on the line for Malaysia and Malaysians.

She also credited the police and soldiers and Rela members too for their dedication.

"I pray to Allah that these unsung heroes and their families are protected," Tunku Azizah said.

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