Malaysia, which is currently engulfed in the twin crises of the Covid -19 pandemic and economic contraction, should learn from countries that have successfully contained the virus.
The fundamental problem with the Perikatan Nasional government since the ill-fated Sabah state election, which contributed to re-emergence of Covid-19 infections, is being reactive rather than proactive when dealing with the pandemic.
The situation has become far more difficult when ministries work in silos in dealing with health crises.
The country as a whole lacks the right infrastructure in dealing with the pandemic due to a lack of strategic planning and insufficient preparations for a nationwide epidemic.
Even though there are laws that deal with preventable diseases, it is not supported by elements that could kick in at the early signs of a pandemic. The self-serving political culture has also prevented a national consensus in dealing with the pandemic.
By its actions, it has created low business confidence in the country, resulting in foreign investors moving to other countries and also foreign outflow of funds. Uncertainty due to this reactivity has created negative implications on the political and economic life of the nation.
Unemployment is on the rise, which could result in public unrest if the fundamental causes are not addressed.
According to recent reports by CodeBlue, Malaysia’s Covid-19 cases per 100,000 population have surpassed Indonesia and are now the third highest in Southeast Asia after Singapore and the Philippines. Malaysia recorded 223, which is higher than that of Indonesia (210). Indonesia’s population of about 274.8 million is 8.4 times larger than Malaysia’s estimated 32.7 million population.
Among all the ASEAN countries, Malaysia’s 72,694 cumulative Covid-19 cases is the fourth highest after Indonesia (575,796), the Philippines (439,834), and Myanmar (99,155).
Singapore has the highest Covid-19 cases per 100,000 population (992) in the region, which is 4.4 times higher than Malaysia’s 223 coronavirus cases per 100,000 population. However, Singapore has been reporting fewer than 20 Covid-19 cases every day, mostly imported, from October 1, 2020 till now. Malaysia, on the other hand, has been reporting a daily average of more than 1,000 coronavirus cases for the past three weeks since November 14.
Moreover, Malaysia’s cumulative Covid-19 cases (72,694) is higher than Singapore (58,260) and Singapore’s average daily Covid-19 cases from November 27 till December 3 is also 189.48 times lower than that of Malaysia.
It is obvious that the government has failed to contain the virus in comparison to its neighbour, and this has resulted in business contraction and higher unemployment.
It is time that we emulate the public health infrastructure in Taiwan. Taiwan, which experienced a SARS pandemic in 2002, took a proactive approach by establishing a pre-Covid-19 plan that enabled a fast-coordinated response, particularly in the domains of early screening, effective methods for isolation/quarantine, digital technologies for identifying potential cases and mass mask use.
This timely and vigorous response allowed Taiwan to avoid the national lockdown which protected its economy from contraction.
The Taiwan CDC in conjunction with the Central Epidemic Command Centre (CECC) took the lead in managing the pandemic, as directed in the pre-Covid-19 pandemic plan for Taiwan. Furthermore, Taiwan provided social and financial support during the Covid-19 pandemic and has existing universal health coverage.
Taiwan’s well-developed pandemic approach, with extensive contact tracing through both manual and digital approaches, and access to travel histories, meant that potential cases could be identified and isolated relatively quickly. This ability to track individuals or identify high-risk contacts resulted in fewer locally acquired cases.
These steps help build confidence in the health care system and this in turn would also translate into economic and business confidence. Let’s learn from Taiwan in building the right infrastructure of disease control that is proactive and resilient.
M. Kulasegaran is the Member of Parliament for Ipoh Barat and former Human Resources Minister.
- This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of CodeBlue.