After 365 days of Covid-19 Malaysia has yet to score a single day with zero infection, total case stands at 186,849 and a grim 689 deaths is not a much intended statistics. The global pandemic has caused much despair, destruction and unprecedented damages to lives, livelihood and economy of every country the virus has occupied. Over in Malaysia the situation is no less perfect, after battling the spread in March 2020 with a nationwide lockdown which saw the cases dropping to low double digits, we are now facing a devastating third wave with daily cases touching 3000-4000. This forced the government to initiate MCO 2.0 or a partial lockdown of some of our more economically vital states, however with cases still not showing any signs of reduction there are now calls for a full lockdown to bring the numbers down. The question now beckons, can our economy absorb another massive shutdown blow?
During the earlier MCO Malaysia was able to remain resilient, mostly due to our robust public health system and sound economic fundamentals. Nevertheless, with the onset of the third wave of the outbreak, the healthcare system has been subjected to even greater pressure, testing the capability and capacity to the limit.
- When the Movement Control Order (MCO) was first introduced in March last year, the overarching priority was to strike a balance between protecting lives and livelihoods. The imperative of protecting public health has always remained paramount in as much as it is crucial that the economic well-being of the people is safeguarded. With this principle in mind, the Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI) together with other economic agencies were tasked to formulate strategies to minimise the impact to the battered economy. As Malaysia is an important player in the global supply chain, it was incumbent to ensure minimal disruption to the supplies of essential products such as rubber gloves, PPE, parts and components for medical devices.
- In efforts at fighting the pandemic, a host of unintended economic consequences were unleashed, not the least of which is the debilitating impact on the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Thus, in the second quarter of 2020, Malaysia’s GDP suffered its worst ever decline in our history, namely, a contraction to -17.1 per cent. By the third quarter of 2020, the country managed to bring down the decline in growth to -2.7 per cent thanks to the many stimulus packages, but it will take some time before we can get into positive territory.
- The notion that the economy can revive instantaneously after a lockdown has been lifted has no real basis. The fact of the matter is that the economy does not run on a ‘switch off-switch on’ mode. In this regard, recent calls to re-impose total lockdown in order to deal with the massive spikes in number of infections attendant on this third wave must be viewed along with other suggestions concerning alternative strategies and options. For instance, the Government could consider tightening the Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) to prevent outbreaks at ignition sites and introducing clear guidance on geospatial planning such as quantifying indoor settings at any given time. Additionally, efforts for targetted testing could be stepped up as well as to regulate the costs of RTK-Antigen test kits to make COVID-19 testing more affordable and on a larger scale, particularly for industries. It has also been suggested that SOPs for social events can be tightened while a full ban on inter-state travel should be imposed for the interim.
- In any event, the call is for businesses to open on the condition precedent of full compliance with stricter SOPs. It cannot be over emphasised that at the end of the day, community engagement and empowerment remains key. One loss in income affects the whole household. In practical terms, the loss of income for one breadwinner may well adversely affect the livelihoods of at least 4 persons in a family.
- Public-Private-Rakyat synergy is an invaluable value proposition for nation building and should be embraced by all. Throughout 2020, the security and medical frontliners particularly from the Ministry of Health have demonstrated their commitment, dedication and tireless efforts to contain the spread of the pandemic. We owe them a tremendous and invaluable debt.
- (Additional comments included to a commentary from Datuk Azmin Ali of Ministry of International Trade and Industries, on the viral information shared on social media of a possible stop order to all industries after Feb 4)