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How we measure up

27 Apr 2020 / 21:18 H.

    THE Covid-19 outbreak has shown that the government can deal with a pandemic and has won praise from the World Health Organisation, foreign news agencies and our neighbours for its handling of the public health crisis.

    The government has developed effective strategies and plans including introducing a movement control order (MCO), offering financial support to the rakyat and businesses as well as adopting and implementing an effective crisis management and communications approach to update Malaysians on the situation.

    The MCO imposed on March 18, and now extended to May 12 has managed to curb the spread of the virus. Malaysia seems to be winning the war against the coronavirus.

    As many business were ordered to be closed under the MCO, many business owners, employees and the general public have been confronted with severe financial difficulties. Recognising that rakyat and businesses are suffering, the government has introduced and offered several fiscal stimulus packages to help ease their burden.

    The IMF had reported that a fiscal stimulus package of RM20 billion was approved on Feb 27, including increased health spending, temporary tax and social security relief, cash transfers to affected sectors and rural infrastructure spending.

    Additional measures – electricity discounts and temporary pay leave – for RM620 million were announced on March 16. Some investment spending planned for 2020 is being frontloaded.

    A second stimulus package of RM250 billion was released on March 27, including additional health spending, cash transfers to low-income households, wage subsidies to help employers retain workers and infrastructure spending in East Malaysia.

    The government also set up a RM50 billion fund for working capital loan guarantees for all Covid-19-affected businesses.

    Furthermore, employees will be allowed special withdrawals from their Employees Provident Fund (EPF) account for a 12-month period and businesses will be allowed to reschedule EPF payments. On April 6, the authorities announced a third stimulus package of RM10 billion, including grants for micro SMEs, scaled-up wage subsidies and a 25% discount on foreign workers’ fee.

    The Ministry of Health (MoH) has received praise for its frequent communications with the public in dealing with the pandemic.

    The ministry has been lauded for its transparent, comprehensive and consistent communication delivering the latest information regarding Covid-19 in multiple languages through press conferences, media statements and on social media platforms.

    WHO representative to Malaysia, Brunei Darussalam and Singapore, Dr Lo Ying-Ru has commended the Malaysian authorities for their action in managing and containing the spread of the coronavirus citing that the government had been excellent in its case investigation and was transparent in sharing the latest developments not only with WHO but also with the public.

    US investment bank JP Morgan in its report dated March 23 has credited the government’s actions as effective in curbing the spread and intensity of the pandemic and dovetailed that Malaysia’s strategy far exceeds Asean and some European peers.

    JP Morgan outlined three reasons in expecting milder development with lower mortality rate in the country – active testing of suspected cases, strong efforts to slow the infection curve and hospital capacity

    At a Special Asean Summit on Covid-19, chaired by Vietnam’s Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc and joined by other Asean leaders and conducted via video-teleconferencing on April 14, Bernama reported that Malaysia had shared its own experiences and knowledge in facing the pandemic with Asean member states.

    Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin said Malaysia had put in place several key strategies to address critical health, economic and social issues brought about by the pandemic, including the imposition of the MCO, increasing its capacity to conduct more tests per million capita, rigorous contact tracing, and treatment to all patients regardless of their level of symptoms and illnesses.

    He also shared three stimulus packages worth RM260 billion (US$64.6 billion) offered by the government to cushion the impact of Covid-19 on the people and businesses.

    The prime minister advocated that a coherent, multi-sectoral, multi-stakeholder, whole-of-Asean approach was critical in ensuring timely and effective response to the pandemic and in view of the expected global changes, Asean must acclimatise itself with what is going to be the new global order, or simply put – the new normal.

    A day after the summit, a news portal reported that the director-general of health, Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah, was listed by China Global TV Network as one of three leading doctors in the fight to stop the spread of the Covid-19 virus, alongside America’s Dr Anthony Fauci and New Zealand’s Ashley Bloomfield.

    These three medical professionals have received heaps of praise for being a “calming” and “trustable” source of information and facts during the pandemic to their countrymen.

    Noor Hisham, 56, who has been the director-general since 2013, has been dubbed a “trusted face” by Malaysians thanks to his consistent updates about the virus on social media platforms, relying on facts and figures to make decisions and inform the public.

    He updates the public on social media late into the night, after long working hours, and looks visibly more tired each passing day.

    Malaysia’s handling of the outbreak has become a topic of envy among international Twitter users; including Japanese and Indonesian.

    Bernama on April 15 reported that Netizens in Indonesia have commended the Malaysian government’s move in helping the people whose income has been affected by the MCO.

    Many are amazed by the financial assistance and other initiatives extended to those severely hit by the economic crisis and hoped the Indonesian government would be more concerned and would take similar measures as Malaysia.

    Sheriffah Noor Khamseah Al-Idid Dato Syed Ahmad Idid is an Innovation & Nuclear Advocate. Comments: letters@thesundaily.com

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