Decisive approach would help Malaysia overcome the Covid-19 third wave

Decisive approach would help Malaysia to flatten the pandemic curve once again.

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Published in Malay Mail, Business Today, Astro Awani, New Straits Times, & Asia News Today, image by Malay Mail.

Although the National Covid-19 Immunisation Programme (NIP) that started on February 24 provided a light at the end of the tunnel, the continuous four-digit daily infection figures for more than one month left Malaysia with no option other than country-wide lockdown effective from May 12.

Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin announced on May 10 Malaysia would be under the third Movement Control Order (MCO 3.0) till June 7.

“With daily cases exceeding 4,000 and active cases at 37,396 as well as 1,700 deaths reported as of May 10, Malaysia is facing a third Covid-19 wave that could trigger a national crisis,” he added.

Up till today, Sabah and Sarawak are the only two states that are under the conditional MCO (CMCO) with tightened restrictions. This is worrying as more Malaysians would find it difficult to make ends meet.

Public Investment Bank Bhd (PIVB) estimated MCO 3.0 in the whole country would cost Malaysia RM300 million daily.

Therefore, there is an increasing concern that hard-hit sectors such as tourism, retail, hospitality and food & beverage (F&B) sectors might have to shutter their business operations forever due to the reintroduction of the country-wide lockdown.

Despite the current administration providing numerous stimulus packages to ease the financial burden of Malaysians during the first two MCOs, the third MCO is expected to make more businesses struggling to stay afloat.

Up till March 2021, Malaysia spent a total of RM340 billion in several stimulus packages such as:

No.Type of PackagePackage introduction periodTotal (RM billion)
 1Prihatin Rakyat Economic Stimulus Package (Prihatin)Mar 2020250
 2Prihatin Package for Small and Medium Enterprises (Prihatin SME+)Apr 202010
 3Short-Term Economic Recovery Plan (Penjana)Jun 202035
 4Prihatin Supplementary Initiative Package (Kita Prihatin)Sep 202010
 5Malaysian Economic and Rakyat’s Protection Scheme (Permai)Jan 202115
 6Strategic Programme to Empower the People and Economy (Pemerkasa)Mar 202120

Furthermore, the ban on dine-in at restaurants nationwide except Sabah, has been made worse by the drastic drop in the number of e-hailing riders available for deliveries.

According to Foodpanda Malaysia’s Head of Logistics Shubham Saran, there had been a decrease in the number of food delivery riders around the Klang Valley over the past few weeks, especially during the fasting month of Ramadan.

The heavy downpour and thunderstorms right after working hours have made food deliveries extremely challenging too. Customers had to wait at least one hour for their food to arrive at their doorsteps, discouraging others from placing food orders online.

As they are merely relying on self pick-up orders, some restaurants are pessimistic they will lose approximately 80 to 90 per cent of revenue during the MCO 3.0, which is worse than the first two MCOs.

In addition, poor communication among different government ministries and agencies had left businesses and individuals clueless on the standard operating procedures (SOPs) of the MCO 3.0.

Moreover, there is a lack of clarity and transparency after the Hotspots Identification for Dynamic Engagement (HIDE) list was released during the weekend just before Aidilfitri (May 8).

On the day itself, Science, Technology and Innovation Minister Khairy Jamaluddin indicated places under the HIDE list could continue to operate as usual as they are not Covid-19 clusters. The listed premises only have to close when there is a directive from the authorities.

A day later, however, Senior Minister (Security) Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob announced that all premises listed under the HIDE system would be closed for three days (ie., May 9 till 11). This gave little time for the shoppers to react as it is a peak shopping period for Muslim families to purchase items needed for their Raya celebrations.  

Factories and construction sites are allowed to operate during MCO 3.0 despite contributing the most Covid-19 clusters. According to CodeBlue’s analysis of the 314 Covid-19 clusters detected from February 22 to April 2, 48.06 per cent came from factories while 11.56 per cent came from construction sites.

As the current SOPs are inconsistent and not based on science and data, many opposition leaders and ordinary Malaysians have expressed frustration via social media channels. This can be seen when the Prime Minister made a sudden announcement to implement a one-month country-wide lockdown on May 10.

Therefore, for Malaysia to overcome the Covid-19 third wave, EMIR Research has several policy recommendations for the current administration to look into:

1. Learn from New Zealand ― using data and science to determine current SOPs. For instance, the New Zealand government introduced a four-tier response system in March last year by applying limitations on mass gatherings, encouraging increased physical distancing, closing all schools and non-essential workplaces, prohibiting social gathering and imposing severe travel restrictions;

2. Work with experts outside the Ministry of Health (MoH) for a real whole-of-society effort. The experts could apply machine learning and artificial intelligence tools, assisting the Malaysian government in identifying Covid-19 hotspots under the recently introduced HIDE system;

3. 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 metres apart could be applied;

4. Follow the World Health Organisation (WHO)’s recommendation by fully employing digitized find, test, trace, isolation and support (FTTIS), reducing the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic in the country. This would minimise economic disruption and balance the wellbeing of both lives and livelihoods; and

5. Reduce the number of SOP violations without fear or favour which will result in the people complying and assisting the government in fighting the health crisis together ― reducing the burdens of frontliners in dealing with increasing numbers of Covid-19 patients.

When a decisive approach in dealing with the Covid-19 third wave in the country is taken, Malaysia could flatten the pandemic curve once again, moving towards economic recovery as per the pre-pandemic level.

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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