The Center for Market Education (CME) believes that a re-opening strategy can even proceed faster than announced if properly accompanied by a comprehensive support plan.
It says a re-opening strategy cannot be based only on vaccination targets; such a strategy could backfire.
“In fact, we now know that vaccinating people can both be infected and infected others and may be subject to more relaxed compliance to SOPs due to a feeling of safety,” it says, adding that the main issue is not the speed of reopening (too early or too late, too slow or too fast), but the backup plan to allow even a wider reopening program but in safety.
The centre welcomes the change in reference benchmarks for the National Recovery Plan (NRP).
“The new benchmarks based on the number of daily hospital admissions of COVID-19 patients set for states to progress from one phase to another under the national recovery plan, as announced by coordinating minister Tengku Zafrul Aziz, are a step in the right direction”, says Dr Carmelo Ferlito, CEO of the Center for Market Education. “This is the recognition that a 0-cases policy cannot be pursued and we need to find a way to live with COVID-19 protecting lives not only from the virus but also from the unintended consequences of lockdowns”.
Nevertheless, it offers some points to consider in the wake of the reopening of the country.
Weekly tests at workplaces and schools should be the gold standard for proper monitoring of the pandemic evolution with early detection aiming to minimize mortality (breathalyzers should be considered too).
By avoiding lockdowns, resources can be saved for targeted investments in strengthening the healthcare system with temporary hospitals, ICUs beds, oxygen machines and so on. This kind of investments has been the big missing point in the general anti-COVID strategy implemented so far.
Research on an adequate pharmacological protocol should be incentivized.
CME also welcomes the intention to speed up the reopening of the economy to avoid the collapse of the country and heavy damages in particular to Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs). In this regard, the next economic indicators on GDP, inflation and employment are particularly important; under the current circumstances, CME judges as too optimistic the growth estimations presented so far, while it expects near-flat GDP growth in 2021.
The centre also invites to reflect on the fact that reopening the economy and social life only for vaccinated people is discriminatory.
There are people that for health or personal reasons cannot take the vaccine and we cannot think of keeping them locked in the house forever. In Europe, even countries like Italy which implemented a very strict “green” pass policy, are allowing unvaccinated people to be considered like the vaccinated ones if either they have a recent negative test or they have reached immunity by being infected. Malaysia should learn from these examples.
“In a nutshell, we want a rapid return to normalcy whereby vaccination is one of the factors kept into account, together with a sound plan to avoid the program backfiring,” concludes Dr Ferlito.