Malaysia Covid-19 Kavita Maheendran Exco Malaysia Youth Council
A healthcare worker walking past a mural of frontliners at Section 7, Shah Alam, Selangor. PIX: AFFAN FAUZI / MalaysiaGazette / 10 DECEMBER 2020.

Malaysia was once praised for effectively tackling and curbing Covid-19 spread. Even countries that control the world economy has applauded and were inspired by our diligence. Unfortunately, that did not last long and today we are falling faster than we predicted. We have surpassed the 1 millionth mark and recorded highest number of deaths last Sunday (July 25, 2021) and Monday respectively. With cases increasing every day, that raises a doubt on how effective the government’s recovery plan has been? Repetitively, the pandemic has been addressed as an emergency that we should act on. However, due to carelessness and to serve political agenda, it has completely defied the purpose of imposing Movement Control Order (MCO).

It is no secret that pandemic has affected the livelihoods of thousands of Malaysians, many are still facing short supply of food, there is still inadequate medical care and supplied, no job security, deteriorating mental health of people and uncertainties after uncertainties fills the thoughts of ‘Rakyat’. We are facing the nightmares that was seen by United States, United Kingdom and India. In parliamentary debates, it is common to use neighbouring and western countries as an example to implement an idea; but why didn’t we take New Zealand or Hong Kong as an example?

The closure of small and medium-sized enterprises has led to 1.2 million job losses and has hurt the supply chain for multinational corporations (MNCs). Although vaccination is a key to reopening of economy, but it is also important for Government to have a clear plan. This is a difficult situation; many Malaysians have lost hope and they are doing what they can afford to keep surviving. We have been bending over backwards and we have surpassed the breaking point; the medical frontliners are experiencing this firsthand and they are exhausted. A video produced by ‘Projek Bangsa Malaysia’ featuring voices of medical frontliners has been circulating across social media platforms. Sadly, their cry did not give these leaders the urgency of hearing them out and taking prompt action.

With that in mind, the following are few suggestions and ideas that I have compiled after reaching out to a few thought leaders and individuals who are well versed of current situation. It is crystal clear that the utmost priority should be given to medical frontliners. They are no longer at breaking point – they have burned out physically and mentally. The best way to tackle this is to mobilise the health or medical sector. Which means building temporary field hospitals, drive through clinics, ICU centres and emergency health centres. Boost up production of essential equipment and medication, staffing health facilities adequately and establishing support services for the hungry, homeless and most vulnerable. On the other hand, deploy army to disinfect airports, schools and critical public places. In 2020, constant disinfection was taking place, but things are taken lightly and no proper guidelines were given.

We have come to a point where we had to witness doctors protesting for not getting permanent job assurance. Out of 23,077 of doctors only 789 were offered permanent position in the past five years. Justice should be served to the medical sector immediately. We need doctors and health staff more than ever. Apart from that, other than creating awareness; it is high time to increase and speed up vaccination process across the country. Most importantly, address ‘empty syringes’ issues genuinely and the next steps should have been briefed with transparency and understandable guidelines. “No one is left behind” could have won many hearts initially but we humbly request to remember the marginalised communities as well.

This pandemic has certainly taught that data, facts and statistics are crucial. These are the key when it comes to reporting and at the same time assisting in producing predictions together with drafting ground plan. The government should have hired a special team of virologists, scientists, medicine specialists, data analysts who can take meaningful key decisions based on daily graphs. Politicians are not expected to be an expert or know-it-all in such dire situation. Allow the experts to do their job and function as advisory committee to the Government and Health Ministry. Many Malaysian experts are seen and heard on traditional media sharing their thoughts, timely facts and opinion in curbing the pandemic and recommending on ways to recover country’s economy effectively and efficiently. Claims and statements released by the country leaders has pushed Malaysians to lose hope. Even with current data being reported by the government raises skepticisms. For example, the percentage reported on total number of Malaysians vaccinated – does it include ‘empty syringes’ as well?

Based on a study, half of Malaysia’s 900,000 small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) which employs about 50 per cent of the country’s 15.9 million workers, could fold if the current MCO or EMCO is extended beyond September 2021. Which also means, 550 billion ringgit in loss. The guidelines for EMCO this year have already gone wrong for allowing the major contributing industries to operate. More businesses will shut down this year and will leave many jobless. Therefore, it is crucial for the Government to plan and execute financial fiscals for next three years to help new entrepreneurs, SMEs and sole proprietorships to jump start Malaysian job market, soar herd spending and expansion for mid and low level of economy strata. Once the pandemic is behind us, we must start hiring. Policymakers should already be preparing public-service and guaranteed-job programs for anyone who shows up at the unemployment office. Although Skim Perantisan Nasional (SPN) is being rolled out, it only offers internships and temporary placements; job security is not guaranteed.

Government should continue implementing short-term debt deferments (including on small business and mortgage loans) and suspending utility bills, as some European countries did. Governments also should be providing income support in the form of extended unemployment insurance, food stamps, and housing benefits. All work requirements for public benefits should be abolished, and the federal government should extend immediate financial assistance to state governments constrained by balanced-budget laws. Besides that, offer Covid-19 response package where swab tests, medical care and medical supplies for those who are critically ill and for those who have lost their health insurance due to unemployment. Also, ensure to make the application process an easy one for the public to apply. Do not demand for multiple forms and documents to be given out to multiple departments and ministries. Ease the process.

Apart from that, cash assistance alone will not be enough. On the contrary, without the aforementioned provisions and bold measures to plug the hole in the cratering labour market, much of the cash payout will be wasted. When employment and income prospects are uncertain, sending cash to families is like pouring water into a leaky bucket. What Malaysians really need are policies to create good jobs once the crisis has passed. Only the big government, big public investments will ensure a quick bounce back; this time it needs to be different.

What is even saddening is how the education system is being carried out. Days, weeks, months has passed but the Ministry of Education has yet to table the best method or at least a practical strategy. One should not announce reopening of schools with cases peaking each day. Students are not eligible to get vaccines and they are the most vulnerable group. Make use of experts to rebuild and restructure the execution of PdPR. More students are dropping out and teachers are mustering every ounce of effort they have, to ensure holistic learning. Gadgets that were promised were never delivered, Internet connectivity issues left unresolved, online teaching structure with unreasonable rules and pushing students to lose interest. By now, alternative methods should have been implemented. For instance, mailing or drop-off of homework at schools, focus group style teaching centres especially for outskirts area, outdoor classroom or ‘drive-thru’ style with smaller groups of students in shorter duration. These ideas may or may not work but with 222 and 70 individuals in ‘Dewan Rakyat’ and ‘Dewan Negara’ respectively; many initiatives could have been taken with implementation.

To sum up, it is clear that policies should be scrutinised and revised from time to time to ensure smooth running of a country. Take this situation as a lesson and focus on direct action on developing a new model. Government should use this crisis as an opportunity to launch a bold investment program for clean, green infrastructure, well equipped healthcare and encouraging researches and studies on developing the country as a whole. We hope that our country leaders will put aside their political differences and come together to make right decisions by putting ‘Rakyat’ as their top priority. Unprecedented situation requires timely and innovative action.

Kavita Maheendran
Exco Malaysia Youth Council (MBM)