In a webinar hosted by the CIMB ASEAN Research Institute (CARI) under its Covid-19 Economic Recovery Plan Series, Director-General of Health Malaysia, Dr. Noor Hisham stated that each country should assess its risk and rapidly implement the necessary measures at the appropriate scale to reduce both Covid-19 transmission as well as the economic, public and social impacts.
“There are no shortcuts of this pandemic. An empowered, engaged community that takes individual behaviour measures in the interest of each other is very critical to bring this pandemic under control,” commented Dr Noor Hisham.
“As the widespread effect of this pandemic goes beyond orders, by extension, cooperation at the regional must be built upon consultation with regional constituents. In this case, we in Malaysia have been working with our ASEAN neighbours to curb the spread of the pandemic,” he added.
He also noted that with the risk of loss of income of individuals and businesses due to lockdown, a reluctance to adhere to Covid-19 related government measures is understandable. Dr Noor Hisham further pointed out that a comprehensive strategy to mitigate Covid-19 must include initiatives that cover public health, social security and economic recovery.
“The most critical ingredient of any response is trust,” he said.
ASEAN member states have committed to enhance effective and transparent public communication through timely updates of relevant policies, public health and safety information as well as clarifications on misinformation. The Quick Response Team of Malaysia’s Ministry of Multimedia and Communication has been actively debunking Covid-19 related fake news on social media since March 2020. Singapore even convened a parliamentary select committee to investigate deliberate online fake news earlier this year.
At the Special ASEAN Summit, the ASEAN health ministers have also agreed to coordinate cross-border health responses, scale up the use of technology for efficient information exchanges and strengthen and institutionalise preparedness.
“In the fight against Covid-19 there is no bragging right. A country, relatively successful at the public health end of the battle will still face serious suffering at its economic end – especially if it is an open economy like so many ASEAN countries,” said Munir Majid, chairman of CARI.
“Economies that have been frozen by lockdowns are not going to be open to those easing out of those containment measures which are dependent on cross-border exchange of goods and services. Interdependence has no greater significance than when fighting a virus which respects no borders and boundaries,” he commented.
He also urged for ASEAN countries to strengthen ASEAN’s information-sharing mechanism to allow for immediate and accurate information on local conditions and incentivise the private sector to increase the production of face masks and personal protection equipment (PPE) to a strictly enforced ASEAN standard.
“When the situation begins to improve in the future, ASEAN should also adopt the available technology to develop an ASEAN-wide contact tracing system to support the reopening of borders and resumption of travel and tourism,” he concluded.