Let us first acknowledge Dr Amar Singh HSS, who first alerted us of the risk we are now clearly facing in his article, Beware The Fifth Wave Of Covid-19. The infectivity rate or R-Naught as measured by the Ministry of Health (MOH) has been sustainably higher than 1.0, indicating pandemic levels, for about two weeks now.
The fifth wave of Covid-19 is upon us, with Pejuang Research’s own projection as depicted below showing infection numbers breaching the 10,000 a day level within a week, and 12,000 in August, if the situation remains the same.
Unfortunately, two aspects of Covid-19 management are falling short of current challenges:
- The vaccination programme under the National Covid-19 Immunisation Programme (PICK) will help eventually, but not fast enough to save us from the current crisis. As of yesterday, even with the recent ramping up of vaccinations, less than 30 per cent of the adult population has received at least one dose of the vaccine, while less than half of them are fully vaccinated. This is far from herd immunity requirements.
- Of additional concern is the fact that testing levels are still well short of international benchmarks, despite the best efforts of MOH. Adequate testing is indicated when the positivity test rate is below 5 per cent. It has not been that low in Malaysia since early May, and has been above 8 per cent since the beginning of July, indicating the fact that many Covid-positive individuals are freely and unsuspectingly infecting others.
With images of ICUs stretched to their breaking point inundating social media and death rates climbing, surely the government has to acknowledge that their National Recovery Plan needs a Re-Plan. So what should the Re-Plan comprise of?
1. The Re-Plan should be transparent and realistic. The government should move away from announcing plans and proclaiming actions with an overly optimistic bent. Whatever plans the government has announced will be followed by the whole nation, be it businesses preparing when to resume activities, parents arranging their children’s return to school, etc.
Unrealistic plans, upon announcement, will cause confusion, resulting in a series of failures in their implementation, beginning from government agencies, through to the private sector, voluntary organisations, and ultimately the people.
It will burden, rather than assist those who rely on those plans. Regrettably, in the absence of additional information to moderate the government’s declared plans, time, money and resources have been wasted.
The government will then lose credibility, making it increasingly difficult for it to deliver on current or any subsequent plans.
2. The Re-Plan should be a proper plan. The recovery plan should not be put together in a hurry, let alone be announced hastily. Key elements should be incorporated from the outset, not retrofitted.
The plan should have the flexibility for change, but the aim should be for it to be robust enough to retain around 80 per cent of its key elements, barring catastrophic changes unforeseen during planning.
For instance, a plan drawn up before the impact of the Delta variant was fully understood may need significant change, but not one drawn up after the crisis in India.
3. The Re-Plan should be drawn up by the best subject matter experts. The impact of Covid-19 is overarching, impacting not just the nation’s physical health, but also the economy, social welfare, education, and religious practices.
In fact, there is hardly anything not impacted by Covid-19, but for the purposes of planning, focusing on a few key areas would allow for recovery to cascade across other areas.
It is in these key areas that we need said experts, ideally those with broad-based, real-world experience.
4. The Re-Plan should reflect upon the successes and failures of others. We are not alone, and as we now face our own struggles, there are many others we can learn from.
Just drawing on the experiences of New Zealand, Thailand, South Korea, Taiwan and many others, much can be learned to strengthen the Re-Plan. Consider what has transpired in the US, the UK and Japan:
How has the US recovered and sustained its recovery from Covid-19 since being among the worst hit nations at the end of 2020? Has the change in leadership there been so significant, and what actions have President Joe Biden taken to achieve this?
How is it that the UK, the most highly vaccinated country in Europe, is now suffering from a spike in Covid-19 cases? What actions or policies by Prime Minister Boris Johnson precipitated this? What could they have done different?
How has Japan, a country with such high population density, and with a vaccine programme that is running at a just slightly faster pace than Malaysia, been able to maintain low infection rates? Have they adopted a practice that better protects their citizens?
The Re-Plan should clearly translate to executable action plans. These actions plans should be driven by specific priorities such as:
- Closing the Covid-19 testing gap.
- Prioritising resources for vaccinations and more ICU capacity.
- Ensuring all citizens are safe, with all necessities catered for, specifically food, housing and utilities.
- Relieving burdens of debt from the people, at the cost of those that can afford it, i.e. the government, government-linked companies, and the glove industry. Tax payments to the Inland Revenue Board can be suspended, loan moratoriums should not be interest-bearing, and all licenses, permits, as well as penalty fees, be waived.
Tengku Zafrul Aziz, the finance minister and the man now in charge of the National Recovery Plan has already sought out a meeting with Pejuang chairman Dr Mahathir Mohamad.
It augurs well that he has done so, but he should be prepared to accept the fact that the current plan by the government has failed and that a Re-Plan is necessary.
He should see merit in Dr Mahathir’s proposal for a National Recovery Council that transcends politics. The elements of a Re-Plan stated above can be the basis of what this council can do.
Actually, it is not a Re-Plan we need. We need a fresh plan, put together by the right people, with the right expertise, experience, authority, and most importantly, a sense of the right priorities, to save our people and our nation from oblivion.
Akhramsyah Muammar Ubaidah Sanusi is head of research at Parti Pejuang Tanah Air.
- This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of CodeBlue.