Covid-19; Making Sense of the Last 75 Bewildering Days

By Wong Chen

I first wrote my initial thoughts and warnings on my Facebook page about Covid-19 on 31st January 2020. This was immediately after the WHO announced a global health warning.

I clearly remember the Chinese New Year (CNY) week before that. My kids and I were laughing, as I was teaching “elbow bumps” as an alternative greeting to them. We also had relatives and friends working and living in China, back for CNY, and they were giving us updates from their friends and colleagues in China. Therefore there was a sense of urgency and dire during CNY but it was then largely considered, a China/Wuhan problem. My brother’s family, who are based in Shanghai, were then contemplating whether they should return to work and school. They hung around for two extra weeks in KL after CNY and eventually they flew back to Shanghai. It has turned out to be a wise decision on their part. Thankfully, they are well and safe, probably one of the safest place to be in, now the virus has gone pandemic with more than a million infected in early April.

That first FB posting on Covid-19 that I made, was 75 days ago. How the world has dramatically changed since then. On the home front, Pakatan Harapan (PH) lost power. It was a chaotic political week of high drama. Parliament which was to convene on 9th March was prorogued to 18th May. My Parliament Select Committee on International Relations and Trade, which had five hearings lined up, was suspended. PH MPs had all their operational and community allocations frozen. We had to downsize the office and suspended all financial aid to the Subang community.

At the end of that infamous week of political crisis, I had a secondary contact with a covid-19 victim and was on self-quarantine for 14 days. My officers, interns and volunteers held the fort in my absence. Two days after the end of that self-quarantine, the Movement Control Order (MCO) was imposed.

It has been a horrific, highly disruptive and bewildering 75 days.

The global economy is still free falling, oil prices continue to overall head south, and most of the world is in some form of lockdown. For many countries, the prospect of mass unemployment is real. For nations with high poverty rate and inequality, coupled by inadequate health systems, the outlook is extremely dire. Social unrest would follow if these countries fail to contain mass unemployment. Fortunately, Malaysia has a comparatively good health system, with dedicated health providers. We do have relative poverty, but incidence of hard-core poverty is low. That being the case, the fundamental priority of Malaysia in terms of policy making, should be to safeguard our economy by supporting jobs and wages. Unfortunately, the announcement of the current government on wage subsidy was too little and too narrow. Rectification should be made on the employment front, as soon as possible. In the coming days, weeks and months, the poor and most vulnerable will be tested to the full. They need jobs more than hand-outs. Many will simply run out of savings and money to survive. There are already reports of sporadic financial desperation, experienced particularly by illegal migrant workers.

Many have asked, how much longer the MCO will take, to turn around the situation. My best guess is about 30 to 60 days of MCO. Why? Simply because that is how long China took to stop the spread. Specifically, in the Covid-19 epicentre, Wuhan took 50 days of complete lockdown to stop the spread.

We may do it faster or slower, depending on how disciplined we are in complying with the MCO. If we continue to take a nonchalant attitude, we may experience a catastrophic health crisis like that unfolding in Italy and Spain. If we discipline up, adopt the Taiwanese and South Korean policies of mass testing, we may get off earlier with only 30 days of MCO.

My office was allocated RM100,000 very recently as community fund for the entire year. Officially, this fund is not specific to Covid-19. However, I intend to use most of it for the Covid-10 crisis. I have immediately, allocated RM50,000 to our front liners; the police, bomba and MPSJ enforcement officers to buy masks, sanitizers, gloves and disinfectants. On community aid for the poor, thankfully both my ADUNS, YB Ng Sze Han and YB Michelle Ng, together with Councillors and other JKP community leaders have been active on the ground during my absence from the self-quarantine. For their on-going efforts, we have also channelled some money to their operations. When we exhaust our RM100,000 fund, my office will account and publish a report detailing the spending.

On my official scope of my work and duties as your MP; which is to legislate, make policies and scrutinise government spending, these have to wait until Parliament reconvenes on 18th May. Nevertheless, I have been engaging the media with my policy views and am taking part in remote public policy conferences. However for MPs to be truly effective, it is very important for Parliament to reconvene as soon as possible.

The current powers, policies and spending exercised by the government are unprecedented and there is an urgent constitutional need for better constructive policy making, with check and balance. Logistically, it may be difficult for all MPs to fly in to attend Parliament, and there are obvious health concerns about mass gathering of 222 MPs in the Dewan Rakyat. Nevertheless, the sitting can be conducted by batches of MPs remotely with technology, such as Zoom. Parliament needs to be re-activated to handle this crisis properly, to develop better accountable policies. The public should not be subjected to any more ad hoc, ill formed and illogical “Doraemon” policy solutions.

Lastly, I want to end this article on a message of hope, and in particular a call to prepare for positive changes post Covid-19. We will overcome this crisis. It may take many months to get back to “normalcy”. However, we can’t go back to business as usual. We will need to rebuild and restructure the economy based on an economic model of greater equality. I take heart that in the history of humanity, after every war and serious crisis, humanity has proven time and time again, the ability to reinvent and evolve for the better.

On that note, I urge you to stay home, comply with the MCO, help our front liners do their job and may God bless Malaysia.