By Michelle Ng
I write this on the day after the Prime Minister announced that most business sectors can begin operations on the 4th of May. The sense I get from the ground is that this feels like crash-landing the MCO. I truly hope that we are proven wrong.
To me, this is what soft-landing the MCO can look like. Top on our priority is ensuring compliance with the ‘new normal’ after the MCO is lifted. This means that enforcement is key. So, first, we have to stock take on our manpower to ensure that we can monitor compliance of businesses that will be allowed to operate.
Having done so, we then need to look at green, yellow and red zones. For this purpose, and to balance economic interest, we can look at the smallest manageable zoning component, being ‘mukims’ instead of ‘daerah’-s so that we can have more businesses operate. As an example, at the time of writing, Daerah Kuala Langat is a yellow zone, but Mukim Bandar, Batu, Jugra, Kelanang and Morib, which are in Daerah Kuala Langat are green zones. If say we only allow green daerah-s to operate, then all businesses in Kuala Langat cannot operate. But if we allow green mukims to operate, then more businesses can operate. My view is that we should allow economic activity in green zones first. Once business activities in green zones have stabilised, we can then consider opening up yellow zones, but with much stricter conditions. Businesses in red zones should not be allowed to operate. In this regard, we must consider proper border control between green, yellow and red zones.
Now with enforcement manpower as our baseline, we should then realistically have a timetable of sectors that can be opened and the conditions that they need to comply with in green zones first. So, on the first day of soft-landing, factories in soft and heavy industries, for example, are allowed to open. Enforcement should make their rounds in the meantime to ensure compliance with conditions imposed. There must be sufficient time in between opening the first sector and the second sector. So for example on the fifth day of soft-landing, the second sector being retail shops (as an example) are allowed to operate. Again, enforcement must make their rounds and there must be sufficient time given for compliance. Enforcement would still need to do spot checks in sectors opened earlier. This repeats until all sectors that can conduct economic activity safely, according to expert medical opinion, are opened. This means that perhaps even for green zones, certain sectors like indoor gyms, education, beauty salons cannot yet operate due to close human contact required to conduct such businesses.
Of course, the sectors that will be opened up, its conditions for operation and a clear timetable of when each sector can operate must be notified to the public in advance for the sake of certainty and to allow businesses to make the necessary preparations.
Once economic activity in green zones have stabilised, government can then consider opening up sectors in yellow zones but with much stricter conditions than green zones. This means for example, opening up fewer sectors, further limiting operating hours, allowing only 50% operational capacity, continue with no dine-in policy etc. Once we have determined what those limitations are, we can begin opening up those sectors in phases as proposed two paragraphs before this.
Soft landing does not necessarily have to take on the form proposed above. We would just need to abide by a few principles – compliance through enforcement, opening up according to zones with varying degree of allowable economic activity in the type of zone and opening up business sectors in phases with tailored conditions for each sector.
Yes, soft-landing is laborious and requires a lot of logistics and coordination. Yet I believe that this is what we need to do to balance economic interest, but at the same time, better prepare the rakyat to better face the war on Covid-19.