By Wong Chen
In my SJ Echo article written on 30th April 2021, I warned of the then raging pandemic crisis in India and cautioned that we better be prepared for an impending new wave hitting our shores very soon.
This new pandemic wave, driven by variants arrived very quickly soon after that and is now hitting us extremely hard. In the last four weeks, we have seen consistently high number of new infections above 3,000 per day. We are also seeing in the last week, all time records of new infections being created and then surpassed on an almost daily basis.
This current trajectory is predicted to continue for the most of next week and possibly the week after that. Hopefully the new infection numbers will soon plateau and thereafter start to reduce. If we look at the recent Indian pandemic wave as an anecdotal model, the wave has finally started to plateau after six weeks of continuous rises. So based on the same Indian model, and if we take the 1st of May 2021 as the start date of the new pandemic wave in Malaysia, then we should probably see a plateau in the second or third week of June 2021. The key to containing the virus depends on good political leadership (which is sadly lacking) and also the willingness of the public to stay and work from home.
While you may not be able to do much about the current state of dysfunctional politics, you can and should do more regarding matters within your control. The more disciplined you are in staying home and working from home, the faster we will be able to reach that much needed plateau. On the matter of working from home, all employers must play their role to facilitate and encourage this important measure and the government in turn, must enforce strictly the rule, without fear or favour.
What other things should the government be doing to contain the pandemic? Should they declare a full lock down?
In an ideal world, any government should be wary about pursuing a full lock down strategy. I would even say that a full lockdown should be the very last option. However to avoid a full lockdown, will require a crucial pre-condition that is missing in Malaysia; that is a good government that is guided by data and science, that is also transparent and accountable. Only by demonstrating full integrity, can any government win the trust of the people and get us out of this crisis. Unfortunately, we are nowhere close to such an ideal scenario and as for transparency and accountability; these are currently buried together with a shackled Parliament.
Since we as a nation, is stuck in such a predicament, my personal view is that there is no other policy option but to advocate a full lockdown for three weeks to help bring the pandemic under control. The current half hearted lockdown approach is just not working as we have already had almost three weeks of MCO 3.0 and the number of new infections is still rising exponentially. The full lockdown that I am advocating should be supported by a comprehensive wage subsidy scheme of about RM10 billion. Handouts for small entrepreneurs and sole proprietors should also be increased by RM2 billion. Thus my proposed full lockdown solution will require the government to inject a total of RM12 billion.
The government’s claim that a lockdown will cost RM2.4 billion per day and thus will cost a rescue package of RM500 billion (half a trillion) is nonsensical and pure scaremongering. Consider the fact that all economic activities in Malaysia for an entire year (the GDP) is about RM1.6 trillion. So how can a three week lockdown possibly cost half a trillion? Furthermore, the government did not spend more than RM60 billion for the entire year of 2020 to contain the pandemic and now for 2021 it claims that it will need to spend eight times more than 2020? Inflating numbers will only expand the trust deficit of the people to politicians. My simple prescription of a three week lockdown with RM12 billion of economic compensation, should suffice to stop the rising infection rate.
At the time of writing this article on 28th May 2021, Malaysia has recorded 550,000 infections and 2,552 deaths and on the same day, we had a new record of 8,290 cases. These data illustrates clearly the dire situation we are in. Our brave doctors and nurses are fatigued. Hospital and ICU beds are full. Authorities have started to urge people to wear double masks. These are the signs of the times that we are living in.
As such, I implore and urge yet again to all my Subang communities to stop all gatherings, however noble and charitable your intentions are. The only way you can help your family, friends, community and the nation is to stay at home and work from home.