Things are getting from bad to worse in Malaysia’s fight against Covid-19. The second movement control order is in place, yet the number of Covid-19 cases is rising.
People are getting restless, unhappy with the whole situation. I hope there is no eruption.
Between mid-March and mid-April last year, the average number of daily cases was 149. That was about the time the first MCO was in place. This January, the average number of cases stood at 2,319 and on several days, the number crossed the 5,000 mark. The second MCO, if you remember, began on Jan 13.
In January alone, 101,949 new Covid-19 infections were reported nationwide. This is about half of the country’s cumulative number of 214,949 cases at the end of January.
The number of deaths are also on the rise, with a record 21 deaths announced by health director-general Noor Hisham Abdullah on Feb 2.
Many Malaysians are upset by what they see as confusion at the government level, with different messages or changing messages coming from the authorities in the battle to control the pandemic.
Many are perplexed as to why government-funded Universiti Malaya Medical Centre is seeking donations to buy personal protective equipment. What happened to funds allocated for fighting Covid-19?
Many others are angry over double standards in implementation of standard operating procedures, especially when it comes to action against defaulters.
They see that VIPs are spared penalties or get off lightly when they infringe SOPs; their excuses are quickly accepted, but poor villagers in rural Sabah who travel distances to buy food and medicine are swiftly fined RM1,000 each.
What has been the government’s response to the deteriorating situation? Impose an emergency and amend the law to increase penalties – such as an increase in fines – against those who break SOPs.
The government lacks new ideas. It seems to be seeing every problem as the proverbial nail and is therefore using the proverbial hammer to resolve them, as can be seen in the decisions to declare an emergency and raise penalties.
The authorities are repeating the doses they gave during the first MCO in MCO 2.0. They do not seem to have learned much from the measures taken and feedback received in 2020.
The fact is, the government needs more tools, innovative ideas.
I fear by the time we defeat Covid-19, Malaysia will not only have lost a couple of thousand lives and billions of ringgit in the fight to control the spread of the disease, the nation will also be swaying on the precipice of economic and social catastrophe.
The fight started off well, with the previous Pakatan Harapan government instituting some solid measures when the disease first came to light. The Perikatan Nasional which took over was also doing great initially, allowing health director-general Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah to lead the battle.
The good doctor was doing a good job of it too, but along the way the plot was lost. I don’t believe Noor Hisham and the health frontliners should be blamed for this though; they deserve our praise and support.
However, people are increasingly wondering if what happened in the US is happening here. If you remember, former president Donald Trump sidelined his outspoken infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci.
Some are even questioning the reported number of cases, and coming up with theories about why the cases are suddenly high, including connecting it to the declaration of emergency. Many, in fact, cannot understand the need for a state of emergency to handle a health pandemic.
Some say the worsening situation is down to the incompetence of those in power. In fact, there are calls from ordinary Malaysians on social media to put Dzulkefly Ahmad, who was PH’s health minister, back in charge. That’s not a bad idea.
The government has to admit its shortcomings. Then it has to try new strategies.
It has to be more transparent about its short and long-term plans, how the vaccines will be rolled out, the funding involved and how it intends to put the nation back on track after the spread of Covid-19 is controlled.
I cannot understand why the health ministry refuses to share information or data with researchers and state governments. The secretary-general of the Academy of Sciences Malaysia Dr Awang Bulgiba Awang Mahmud, who is an epidemiologist, said the ministry had refused to share “granular data” on Covid-19 with experts outside the ministry.
He said without granular data, researchers would find it difficult to determine Covid-19 risk factors that would lead to a more severe form of the disease or even death. Sharing this data would help the fight against the pandemic in the long run, he said, adding: “We have been asking for that granular data, especially for this third wave, but all our requests have been turned down.”
If experts are offering help, take it. We are not on a picnic here; we are battling a pandemic that is swallowing lives and livelihoods.
The government has to actively seek ideas from others including the Academy of Sciences Malaysia, Malaysian Medical Association, the Malaysian Employers Federation, Malaysian Trades Union Congress and opposition politicians such as Dzulkefly and Yeo Bee Yin.
It has to be recognised that this is not a fight for PN alone; it is a national fight.
It is therefore incumbent upon the government to gather all the ideas, expertise and resources available to face the pandemic. It is all right to name someone outside PN to supervise the whole effort; it is all right to let the health experts take the lead.
Deal with the pandemic as a health issue, not a political issue.
Source : FMT