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In Malaysia, a social media campaign using the hashtag #benderaputih (white flag) is being used to direct assistance during the current Covid outbreak.

Tilda Kalaivani waving a shirt to use as a white flag to call for help in Kuala Lumpur.

Tilda Kalaivani waving a shirt to use as a white flag to call for help in Kuala Lumpur. Photograph: Mohd Rasfan/AFP/Getty Images

Ebrahim Harris reports for Reuters that shortly after mother Hadijah Neamat hung a scrap of white cloth outside her window a neighbour came by to offer her food and other items.

“I thought it would be outsiders who would come to help, like wealthy people or ministers or important people,” said Hadijah, who lives in a densely populated district of Petaling Jaya in Selangor state near the capital, Kuala Lumpur.

“But they said ‘We are neighbours. If someone puts up a white flag, of course we need to be concerned’,” she added, saying she was surprised by the act of generosity on her doorstep.

Hadijah’s husband, Mohd Rusni Kahman, 59, has a disability and has not been able to work since losing his job last year. “Sometimes I just stare into space … If I don’t have work, what will I do? I can’t just rely on my son,” he said.

In response to the white flag campaign, neighbours, businesses, politicians and even celebrities have stepped in to donate.

“It takes a lot of courage (to display the white flag) … Because it’s actually telling everyone that you … can’t manage,” lawmaker Maria Chin Abdullah told Reuters.

“But I think I take it positively – it’s something that this country actually needs because we can’t cover everybody. So it’s good that … you indicate that you need help and we’ll come to you,” she said.

Malaysia has reported more than 785,000 cases of Covid, the third-highest tally in south-east Asia, and has been in lockdown since 1 June.

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