MCO should be gradually eased without any hasty decisions, experts say

Any plans to re-open the economy post-MCO should also involve close collaboration with the neighbours

by S BIRRUNTHA/ pic by RAZAK GHAZALI

WHILE the Ministry of Health (MoH) has outlined six criteria that must be fulfilled for the Movement Control Order (MCO) to be lifted, experts believe that there should be a gradual and deliberate exit strategy to prevent new cycle of Covid-19 outbreaks.

Galen Centre for Health and Social Policy CEO Azrul Mohd Khalib said the country needs a stable exit strategy — at least until the emergence of a viable and effective vaccine for the Covid-19 pandemic.

“I think the six criteria is a good start. However, the end of April would be too soon to assume that the possibility that the infection has been contained.

“The hard reality is that it could be many weeks if not months later before we can go back to what we previously considered normal,” he told The Malaysian Reserve (TMR) in a phone interview recently.

He added that the biggest concern of the emergence of new clusters will depend on how well Malaysians identify and contain existing and new cases, in the absence of the MCO.

“Tarawih prayers during Ramadhan and Hari Raya Aidilfitri prayers and celebrations present the biggest challenges in the control of the coronavirus in the Malaysian context.

“It is likely that it is safer to end the MCO after Aidilfitri rather than before it. That would be a safer bet,” he said.

Azrul added that the government’s strategies on lifting the MCO need to be shared publicly as its success will depend on the involvement and cooperation of the Malaysian public.

He said the government should be transparent on what has been described as the “new social norms”, as the public will have to play a critical role.

“Failure of the public to support and cooperate will result in the country forced to go from MCO to nothing,” he added.

The six criteria set by MoH recently includes maintaining strict border control, adherence to MCO, improved testing and detection standards, the capability to look after high-risk groups, strict adherence to new social norms and enforcing preventive measures in Covid-19 infected areas.

The ministry added that the framework needs to be practised by every ministry to see how the country can have a soft-landing exit strategy.

Meanwhile, Pantai Hospital Kuala Lumpur respiratory physician Dr Helmy Haja Mydin said there should neither be any arbitrary deadlines nor the public thinking the MCO as ‘all or none’.

“I think the MCO should be gradually eased based on the data that we have. For example, it would make sense if restrictions differ between red zones and green zones.

“Similarly, it would make sense if essential industries with good business continuity plans were given more leeway,” he told TMR.

He added that the approach should be dynamic where just as some sectors should be allowed to open, the very same sectors should be constrained if new data were to suggest the need to do so.

Dr Helmy also emphasised that any plans to re-open the economy should also involve close collaboration with the neighbours.

“The virus does not respect transnational borders. If the countries in the region work in tandem, there will be less disruption both from an economic and public health points of view,” he said.

Malaysia is currently in its third phase of the MCO, in an ongoing effort to break the chain of Covid-19 infection nationwide.

The MCO was first enforced on March 18 with the fourth phase expected to end on May 12.