A year ago, during the second stage of our Movement Control Order (MCO), I wrote of the two issues to be considered for the MCO to be relaxed, i.e. statistics of Covid-19 cases and system preparedness.
The former refers to flattening of the epidemic curve, lowering the number of infected cases.
The latter refers to the ability of our healthcare system to deal with new cases after MCO is removed or relaxed.
In other words, the condition for the relaxation of MCO is low Covid-19 statistics and high system preparedness.
Almost a year later today, after many cycles of MCO, EMCO, CMCO, and RMCO, we are, unfortunately, seeing a new, worse, wave of Covid-19 infection here in Malaysia.
This article does not seek to point finger at who is responsible. My goal is to plead with the government to listen to the experts.
There are rumours going around stating the federal government will impose a fresh round of MCO next week. Many have spoken against another full fledged lockdown like the MCO.
A list of 46 experts, academicians and practitioners from the medical field have recently issued an open letter to the Prime Minister proposing ten critical actions for the government to deal with this current wave of Covid-19 infection.
In general, and also in line with what I have written a year ago, the ability of our healthcare system to handle the testing, tracing, and treating (3T) Covid-19 cases is vital to deal with the problem at hand.
Instead of locking down the entire society, the government must work against time to unclog the congestion in our healthcare system to enable quick execution of 3T work.
As long as the healthcare system is able to quickly execute 3T, the rest of the society can go about our lives at least in the context of new normal.
The problem today is the jamming up of our healthcare system, all the way along the stream: testing cannot be done quick enough, contact tracing is still painfully manual and slow despite most of us dutifully scan our MySejahtera everywhere we go, there are not enough quarantine facilities, the whole system is understaffed with many frontliners in the medical sector already exhausted from fighting the pandemic for about a year by now.
Even if we were to go into another lockdown, without dealing with system preparedness, we will eventually go back to square one.
The system has to be unclogged urgently.
To unclog the currently congested public healthcare system, the government should mobilise all the help they can get. Many have urged for a greater whole-of-government and whole-of-society approaches to deal with the pandemic.
Key to this is to set up a bipartisan high level command council, with representatives from the opposition, epidemiologists, as well as experts and stakeholders from various sectors.
Covid-19 prevention and management strategies should also be decentralised to enable prompt and localised response. Different states have different challenges, conditions, and cultures. For Covid-19 prevention strategy to be effective, local and state governments should be empowered with resources and devolution of power to command state-level strategies as much as possible.
Business as usual obviously did not work and will not work, the government needs more heads at the table, and definitely, more hands on the deck.
For example, the government can consider roping in the vast network of private clinics and hospitals all over the country to play a role in 3T work, especially in mass testing, and later, to conduct the vaccination exercise.
The Penang state government recently, has reached an agreement with the Penang Medical Practitioners Society to enable 100 private clinics in the state to provide free Covid-19 vaccination service to Penangites when the vaccines arrive. This is to supplement government clinics to expedite the vaccination exercise.
Last year in Parliament, I urged the federal government to create new temporary contract jobs to mitigate the increasing unemployment as well as to create an army of public health assistants all over the country to ensure compliance with Covid-19 SOP and the new normal. In the same spirit, my colleague, former Deputy Minister of Health, YB Dr. Lee Boon Chye, has this week called on the government to hire 10,000 temporary contract staff to assist in 3T work.
Another full MCO-lockdown will definitely cause a lot of hardship especially to the B40, the working class as well as small and medium businesses in several sectors. The Prime Minister last year reported that each day of the MCO cost the economy RM2.4 billion in losses. Many Malaysians and Malaysian businesses have not recovered from last year’s post-MCO impacts. A fresh round of MCO for another month or even for two weeks will crush them even further.
The government should therefore quickly unclog the country’s healthcare system to enable prompt handling of Covid-19 cases via 3T instead of locking down the rest of society.
Steven Sim is the Member of Parliament for Bukit Mertajam. Last year, during MCO, he was involved in the Penang Lawan Covid-19 campaign as Director of Communication and Community Empowerment.