Comprehensive measures required to win Malaysia’s pandemic war

A man wears a facemask, amid fears over the spread of the COVID-19 novel coronavirus, at Saloma Link Bridge in Kuala Lumpur on March 12, 2020. (Photo by Mohd RASFAN / AFP)

By Amanda Yeo,

Although the 2nd phase of the Movement Control Order (MCO) was implemented throughout Peninsular Malaysia and Sabah for more than two weeks, there is no sign of the Covid-19 infection slowing down – averaging 4,000 Covid-19 cases per day recorded in the whole country.

Up to now, Sarawak is the only state that is under conditional MCO (CMCO). This is worrying as more Malaysians are out of work or not earning enough to sustain their livelihoods.  

According to the Kuala Lumpur City Hall (DBKL), around 2,000 homeless people are living under bridges and on sidewalks in the city centre of the capital.

Therefore, there is an increasing concern that hard-hit sectors such as tourism, retail and hospitality sector might have to shutter their business operations forever due to the extension of MCO 2.0 till Feb 18. Many owners from these hard-hit sectors almost finished up their savings and only could sustain for a few more weeks.

Despite an additional RM15 billion under the Malaysian Economic and Rakyat Protection Assistance Package (Permai) that was introduced on Jan 18 to ease the financial burden of Malaysians during this MCO 2.0, prolonged lockdown measures would leave traders, particularly those who have stocked up for the Chinese New Year (CNY) festival on Feb 12 and 13, in serious trouble, according to Kuala Lumpur Hawkers and Petty Traders Association chairperson Ang Say Tee.

In addition, there are no new strategies to combat Covid-19. The decision by the government to allow the opening up of more business sectors such as barber shops, car wash operators and night markets is set against the backdrop of more Malaysians starting to express doubt about the effectiveness of MCO 2.0. They could not see the point of staying at home, given the continuous rise of the Covid-19 cases in the country.

The ongoing frustration with the flip-flopping policy responses by the current administration, many opposition leaders and ordinary Malaysians have expressed anger via social media channels.

This can be seen when the current administration informed the nation last minute on the implementation of the MCO 2.0. Standard operating procedures (SOPs) were only finalised two days after the Prime Minister’s announcement on MCO 2.0, with different ministers contradicting each other on the policy measures.

For instance, Senior Minister for Security and Minister of Defence, Dato’ Sri Ismail Sabri and Minister for Federal Territories, Tan Sri Annuar Musa had different views concerning the SOPs for public parks. Ismail Sabri stressed the closure of the public parks in the MCO areas whilst Annuar Musa argued that the public parks in Kuala Lumpur must remain open for the people to have a peace of mind.

In the end, public parks in Kuala Lumpur are allowed to operate without a clear indication whether such policy measure will result in Covid-19 cluster, given that there are 481 Covid-19 cases recorded in Kuala Lumpur yesterday (Feb 4).

Up till Feb 3, the manufacturing sector recorded 128 Covid-19 clusters, followed by the construction sector (82 clusters) and the service sector (61 clusters).

All this means that as long as the Covid-19 infections is spiking, it is a tough decision to balance lives and livelihood, and the government is in an unenviable position because there will always be a trade-off between the two, as long as the pandemic is still rearing its ugly head.

Although Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin plans to tighten the enforcement measures on workers’ living facilities, the government also has to impose stricter restrictions on the number of workers allowed in both factories and construction sites. By limiting the number of workers, factory owners and contractors could comply with SOPs whereby the minimum physical distancing of at least one to two meters apart could be applied.

For Malaysia to win the pandemic war, politicians must show good examples to the nation. By not violating SOPs, the nation will be motivated to comply and assist the government in fighting the health crisis together – reducing the burdens of frontliners in dealing with increasing numbers of Covid-19 patients.

Although the recent launch of the 5MY Programme (i.e., [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected] and [email protected]) might help to eradicate urban poverty in all Federal Territories (Kuala Lumpur, Putrajaya and Labuan) is a well thought out measure, such good scheme should be applied to the whole country especially in states that have a relatively high number of infections.

As less than a tenth of the Permai special aid package accounts for direct assistance, over 43 trade groups under the Industries Unite has voiced their opposition to the extended MCO on Feb 4.

To ensure the effectiveness of 5MY Programme and Permai stimulus package in addressing the rakyat’sactual needs, the Ministry of Human Resources (MOHR), Ministry of Agriculture & Food Industry (Mafi) and Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development could craft virtual upskilling and reskilling programmes together, allowing the local workforce to upgrade with the necessary skillsets and, in turn, reducing reliance on the foreign workforce in the country.

By advocating comprehensive measures, the current administration would be seen as a prihatin government that cares about the citizens’ welfare, particularly among the vulnerable groups and hard-hit sectors.

Only when the government, private sector, academic institutions, civil societies and non-governmental organisations and most important of all, politicians of all stripes work together, Malaysia can break the Covid-19 chain of transmission and allow the country’s economy to move towards the road to recovery soon.

Amanda Yeo is Research Analyst at EMIR Research, an independent think tank focused on strategic policy recommendations based on rigorous research.

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