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ALTHOUGH the National Covid-19 Immunisation Programme (NIP) which began on Feb 24 provides light at the end of the tunnel, the continuous four-digit d…

ALTHOUGH the National Covid-19 Immunisation Programme (NIP) which began on Feb 24 provides light at the end of the tunnel, the continuous four-digit daily infection figures for more than one month left Malaysia with no option other than country-wide lockdown effective from May 12.
Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin announced on May 10 that Malaysia would be under the third movement control order (MCO 3.0) until Jun 7.
With daily cases exceeding 4,000 and active cases at 37,396 as well as 1,700 deaths reported as of May 10, Malaysia is facing a third Covid-19 wave that could trigger a national crisis, he added.
Up until today, Sabah and Sarawak are the only two states that are under the conditional MCO (CMCO) with tightened restrictions. This is worrying as more Malaysians would find it difficult to make ends meet.
Public Investment Bank Bhd estimated MCO 3.0 in the whole country would cost Malaysia RM300 million daily.
Therefore, there is an increasing concern that hard-hit sectors such as tourism, retail, hospitality, and food and beverage sectors might have to shutter their business operations forever due to the reintroduction of the nationwide lockdown.
Despite the current administration providing numerous stimulus packages to ease the financial burden of Malaysians during the first two MCOs, the third MCO is expected to make more businesses struggle to stay afloat.
Up until March 2021, Malaysia spent a total of RM340 billion in several stimulus packages such as:
1. Prihatin Rakyat Economic Stimulus Package (Prihatin), March 2020 RM250 billion;
2. Prihatin Package for Small and Medium Enterprises (Prihatin SME+), April 2020 RM10 billion;
3. Short-Term Economic Recovery Plan (Penjana), June 2020 RM35 billion;
4. Prihatin Supplementary Initiative Package (Kita Prihatin), September 2020 RM10 billion;
5. Malaysian Economic and Rakyats Protection Scheme (Permai), January 2021 RM15 billion; and
6. Strategic Programme to Empower the People and Economy (Pemerkasa), March 2021 RM20 billion
Furthermore, the ban on dine-in at restaurants nationwide except Sabah has been made worse by the drastic drop in the number of e-hailing riders available for deliveries.
According to Foodpanda Malaysias head of logistics Shubham Saran, there had been a decrease in the number of food delivery riders around the Klang Valley over the past few weeks, especially during the fasting month of Ramadan.
The frequent downpours and thunderstorms right after working hours have made food deliveries extremely challenging too.
Customers had to wait at least one hour for their food to arrive at their doorstep, discouraging others from placing food orders online.
As they are merely relying on self pick-up orders, some restaurants believe they will lose approximately 80% to 90% of revenue during MCO 3.0, which is worse than the first two MCOs.
In addition, poor communication among different ministries and agencies has left businesses and individuals clueless on the standard operating procedures (SOP) for MCO 3.0.
Moreover, there is a lack of clarity and transparency after the Hotspots Identification for Dynamic Engagement (HIDE) list was released during the weekend just before Aidilfitri (May 8).
On the day itself, Science, Technology and Innovation Minister Khairy Jamaluddin indicated places under the HIDE list could continue to operate as usual as they are not Covid-19 clusters. The listed premises only have to close when there is a directive from the authorities.
A day later, however, Senior Minister (Security) Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob announced that all premises listed under the HIDE system would be closed for three days (i.e., from May 9 to May 11).
This gave little time for shoppers to react as it was the peak shopping period for Muslim families to purchase items needed for their Raya celebrations.
Factories and construction sites are allowed to operate during MCO 3.0 despite contributing the most Covid-19 clusters.
According to CodeBlues analysis of the 314 Covid-19 clusters detected from Feb 22 to April 2, 48.06% of them came from factories while 11.56% came from construction sites.
As the current SOP is inconsistent and not based on science and data, many opposition leaders and ordinary Malaysians have expressed frustration via social media channels.
This can be seen when the prime minister made a sudden announcement to implement a one-month nationwide lockdown on May 10.
Therefore, for Malaysia to overcome the Covid-19 third wave, EMIR Research has several policy recommendations for the current administration to look into:
Learn from New Zealand using data and science to determine current SOP. For instance, the New Zealand government introduced a four-tier response system in March last year by applying limitations on mass gatherings, encouraging increased physical distancing, closing all schools and non-essential workplaces, prohibiting social gathering and imposing severe travel restrictions;
Work with experts outside the Health Ministry for a real whole-of-society effort. The experts could apply machine learning and artificial intelligence tools, assisting the Malaysian government in identifying Covid-19 hotspots under the recently introduced HIDE system;
Impose stricter restrictions on the number of workers allowed in both factories and construction sites. By limiting the number of workers, factory owners and contractors could comply with SOP whereby the minimum physical distancing of at least one to two meters apart could be applied;
Follow the World Health Organisations recommendation by fully employing digitised find, test, trace, isolation and support, reducing the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic in the country. This would minimise economic disruption and balance the well-being of both lives and livelihoods; and
Reduce the number of SOP violations without fear or favour which will result in people complying and assisting the government in fighting the health crisis together, reducing the burdens of frontliners in dealing with increasing numbers of Covid-19 patients.
When a decisive approach in dealing with the Covid-19 third wave in the country is taken, Malaysia could flatten the pandemic curve once again, moving towards economic recovery as per the pre-pandemic level.
AmandaYeo is research analyst at EMIR Research, an independent think tank focused on strategic policy recommendations based on rigorous research. Comments: