Special measures needed to fight Covid-19

The daily text messages from NSC may not be the holistic solution against Covid-19


IN ORDER to exit the Movement Control Order (MCO) seamlessly, countries need to adopt the new norms.

Malaysian economist Professor Dr Jomo Kwame Sundaram (picture) said mass mobilisation or employment of wartime economy is required in order to exit the MCO which is heavily focused on enforcing a sense of urgency and unity.

“Mass mobilisation can only come about through engagement and involvement, in which right now, we do not have enough of.

“The daily sending of text messages by the National Security Council (NSC) does not do the trick,” he said in an online conference held by the Health Diplomacy Malaysia on Sunday, titled “Covid-19 versus Malaysia: The New Normal and The Path to Recovery”.

He cited examples of mass mobilisation such as Argentinian president Alberto Fernandez having announced a public health emergency and called for unity for the entire political spectrum and suspended all flights from most affected countries, and allocated a special budget worth US$26 million (RM112.58 million) to improve detection efforts.

Jomo also quoted Vietnam, which utilised its tools of control such as knowing its citizens’ addresses and locations, as well as mobile phone numbers, which he said, “evokes an image of unity”.

The Partnership for Health Advancement in Vietnam medical director Todd Pollack ascribed its success in containing the outbreak to three factors: Young population, rigorous testing combined with early hospitalisation, and diligent contact tracing and isolation.

In regard to the use of masks, he noted that Kerala, a state in India uses old saree as masks due to the lack of medical mask supply for the population whereas Vietnam uses washable masks, whereas in Malaysia, suppliers are hiking the prices.

“We can’t expect our population to change their masks daily while allowing people to charge them RM2 per piece.

“That’s not how it works. We need to be in this together and we need to make sacrifices which are essential in order to mobilise the entire population,” he said.

Moving forward into the adaption of new norms, Jomo said businesses will not be the way they were prior to the outbreak.

“We cannot talk about ‘business as usual’ and that in a few months, ‘things will go back to normal’. We are now dealing with an extraordinary situation which is profoundly going to transform life.

“This is not the time to start collecting data instead this is the time to deploy the data. Where there is no data for the business, do not set any goals and give whatever benefit there is to everybody and hopefully, those with means will not take government handouts,” he said.

He also talked about the act of caring of which the stimulus package from the government was named, and how it should be extended to sharing as well as how it relates to recent issues of migrants.

“A sense of involvement can only come about through understanding and working together.

“Once we start blaming the Rohingya and migrant workers, it brings out the worst in us and this is not the way to move forward from the crisis,” he said.

Foreign workers in Malaysia live in large numbers within confined spaces such as the Selangor Mansion, Malayan Mansion and Menara City One.

Living in unhygienic or unsanitary locations puts them in the jaws of the pandemic.

Malaysia has the highest number of foreign workers compared to Singapore and Thailand at 2.2 million documented workers and possibly around three million undocumented.

While the Health Ministry has announced a mass testing plan for higher-risk populations in high-risk zones, the government has yet to reveal a clear action plan regarding workers.

This has led to the recent trending hashtag on social media #MigranJugaManusia (migrants are also humans), whereby locals insist that this group of people deserve a place to live, whether they are documented or not.

Jomo also talked about methods of fund disbursement where the MyKad was promised as a means to receive money years ago.

“There are already many ways for the disbursement of funds to locals. We do not need to reinvent new methods to deal with money problems.

“In a wartime situation, you make do with what you have. The sense of urgency is desperately needed,” he said.

Currently in the country, new norms that have been widely adapted include working from home, practising social distancing and utilising standard operating procedures set by the government.