It's been a year since Malaysia's first Covid-19 cases, and there's still no end in sight. Can we right this ship before it's too late?

Also in today's newsletter, it looks like a hard lockdown may not be on the cards after all; glovemakers appear to be finally toeing the line; and opposition MPs take the government's top civil servants to task for attending a Perikatan Nasional meeting.

Diary of a bad year

Far from over

From 3 Covid-19 cases a year ago, we now have 186,849 and worst of all, a death toll that’s nearing 700 (689).

It’s been a tough 365 days, with, as Health DG Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah has said, still no end in sight.

A lot was unknown in the early days of the pandemic — when we were still naively calling it the Wuhan virus — but there was a feeling the powers-that-be then had a handle on things.

That good feeling has long dissipated. We’ve overworked frontliners, recruited trainee doctors to pick up the slack, drafted private hospitals into the fight, and are now seeing both Covid and non-Covid patients hurt cos of limited resources (this story of a man suffering from pulmonary haemorrhage and suspected TB at home ‘cos the Miri hospital can’t cope is especially tragic). The big question is: can Malaysia recover?

Bandar Kuching MP Dr Kelvin Yii, who heads the parliamentary select committee on health, wants an inquiry to find and fix mistakes.

Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad, Pakatan Harapan’s health minister in the days before miracle air suam cures, says the crap we’re in right now was made worse over the last 12 months by:

  1. Gomen leaders not listening to experts;
     
  2. A lack of transparency in data sharing; and
     
  3. The scapegoating of certain folks, e.g. foreign workers, refugees and prisoners. 

What’s needed, thus, is a whole-of-government and a whole-of-society approach, he said. Tl;dr, we can’t operate in silos and everyone concerned — federal, state and local gomens, as well as the private sector, civil society, and the people — must link hands.

It’s a tough ask, for sure, considering the politics at play in Malaysia over the past year. Nevertheless, with opposition and gomen lawmakers – including Dzul – now set to join the bipartisan emergency committee that’ll advise the King on the Covid-19 situation, we’ll hopefully finally(!) focus on what’s important.

MCO = Must Consider Options

Whether it’s a backtrack or simple clarification, we dunno. But contrary to Sunday’s rumours, it seems we mightn’t be in for a full economic shutdown after all. Hearing Noor Hisham tell it, we could see MCO 2.0 end by Chinese New Year IF we all follow the SOPs to the letter.

Reportedly, the gomen isn’t inclined to prolong the current lockdown for fear of leaving a devastating impact on the economy. So we’re looking at maximum four weeks of MCO followed by conditional MCO for about three months. FYI, all states ‘cept Sarawak are under MCO until Feb 4.

Granted, stricter curbs may look like what we need to keep the numbers down. While there’s truth to that POV, global public health experts, including the good peeps at WHO, have noted it can seriously hurt marginalised communities, livelihoods and the economy. Lockdowns only delay the spread – unless a great many other measures are also in place. 

These measures include mass testing, proper contact tracing and quarantine measures, and a vaccine response plan. What lockdowns can do is buy those in power time to come up with effective measures.

Some folks, like International Trade and Industry Minister Azmin Ali, believe there’re alternatives to completely “switching off” the economy. 

Anwar Ibrahim’s former BFF, whose ministry came into the spotlight on Sunday for warning of a full shutdown (allegedly! allegedly!), has said we could tighten SOPs, increase targeted testing, and ban interstate travel instead.

Only Mr Minister, none of these mean anything if the SOPs aren’t crystal clear and enforcement isn’t applied across the board (ahem!).

Covid affairs & high hopes

Incidentally, while Malaysia’s daily recoveries remained high (3,638) yesterday, the number of new cases (3,048) and fatalities (11remained worrying

The silver lining is that our infectivity rate (R-Nought/R0) registered a slight dip on Monday, from a high of 1.2 to 1.06. According to Noor Hisham, if we keep this up, fingers crossed, the situation should stabilise within two weeks. And from there, we could be looking at double-digit daily infection rates by May.

Betul ke, Tan Sri? Didn’t you say you couldn’t see an end in sight? Nvm, we’ll take this sunshine up our butts view for now.

Here’re a few other Covid and lockdown-related news items from Monday:

  • The Health Ministry (MOH) has claimed the current state of emergency is helping it fight the pandemic. The emergency allows for docs to be easily moved between public and private hospitals and for medicine to be loaned and shared.

    We guess that’s good. But wouldn’t the declaration of a medical emergency instead of a nationwide one achieve the same things?
     
  • It seems most glove manufacturers are now complying with health and safety SOPs. In operations carried out this month, authorities have found only six out of 105 companies inspected failed to meet compliance standards. 👀

    Incidentally, despite earlier Covid hiccups, glove manufacturer Hartalega has seen its Q3 earnings soar to RM1 bil.
     
  • The increase in workplace Covid clusters in the manufacturing sector has suggested lotsa other employers are slacking, which is why the Federation of Malaysian Manufacturers has warned members to buck up if it wants to avoid a second lockdown.
     
  • A bipartisan group of Parliamentarians has called on the gomen to grant early conditional releases for selected prisoners to prevent overcrowding and curb the spread of Covid in prisons and detention centres.

    The group added that opening temporary detention centres could potentially make the Covid problem much worse.
     
  • Health supplement company Bioalpha Holdings Bhd has announced it will also distribute Covid vaccines in Malaysia, including China’s Sinovac, pending MOH approval. It could join the likes of GLC Pharmaniaga and MyEg with distribution deals.
     
  • The Higher Education Ministry is mulling pushing the second-semester start date for public universities. Sem 2 of the 2020/2021 academic year was initially supposed to kick off in March.
     
  • Covid patients can now use MySejahtera to report themselves. The app will soon also register vaccination data and peeps eligible for the vaccines.

Guess who's coming to our meeting

Malaysia’s top civil servant – Chief Secretary Mohd Zuki Ali – has found himself in the unenviable position of being under the opposition spotlight. All ‘cos he attended a Perikatan Nasional presidential council meeting.

According to PN boss and PM Muhyiddin Yassin, the online meetup saw party heads and allies being briefed on the emergency ordinance by Zuki as well as de facto law minister Takiyuddin Hassan and Deputy Health DG Dr Norhizan Ismail. 

Unfortunately for Zuks, opposition politicos were having none of it, with the likes of DAP’s Hannah Yeoh noting civil servants had no business attending meetings of political parties/coalitions.

Pakatan Harapan big boss Anwar pointed out this went against regulation as civil servants should maintain the image of neutrality. But, sayeth the PKR head honcho, if all’s truly above board, then attend our own meeting la! 

Unwelcome meeting guests aside, here’re a few odds and ends that made the news yesterday:

  • Malaysia’s foreign direct investments dropped to just US$2.5 billion in 2020, according to the United Nations. The drop marks a 68% decrease from 2019 and suggested that Money Minister Tengku Zafrul Tengku Abdul Aziz was probably talking out of his ass when he recently claimed we’d drawn a lotta investments last year.

    Meanwhile, the gomen has said it has no plans to increase the national debt ceiling of the nation’s GDP, despite announcing the RM15 bil Permai aid package. The debt ceiling was raised from 55% to 60% last year.
     
  • Former premier Dr Mahathir Mohamad has taken a veiled swipe at MPs who aren’t in favour of PM Moo’s emergency move but are too afraid to speak up.

    Also, Maddey’s Pejuang may’ve to take over another party if it can’t get past the Registrar of Societies (ROS) registration block.
     
  • Former minister Tengku Adnan Tengku Mansor’s appeal against his graft conviction is set for April 22 and 23. Ku Nan was last month sentenced to a year’s jail and fined p̶o̶c̶k̶e̶t̶ ̶c̶h̶a̶n̶g̶e̶ RM2 million for taking a load of cash from a businessman in 2016.
     
  • In the latest chapter of How to Lose Friends in 10 Days: Edisi Kedah, MB Muhammad Sanusi Md Nor has decided he’s no longer gonna layan MIC leaders’ complaints and adds that PAS doesn’t need the Indian party’s support to do well.

    Sanusi, who earlier tussled with MIC leaders over the demolishment of a temple in Kedah, was most recently whacked for the state gomen’s decision to nix the state Thaipusam public holiday. 

“This year isn't 2021. It's 2020.2.0.”

- Dr Louisa Ponnampalam, Malaysian marine scientist -

IN INTERNATIONAL NEWS

  • US President Joe Biden has overturned another Trump-era rule — this time concerning an almost-total ban on transgender people joining the military.
     
  • Pharma company Moderna has claimed its vaccine is effective against the Covid variant detected in Britain. The company is, however, developing a booster to deal with a new South African strain of coronavirus.
     
  • South Korean TV star Song Yoo-jung has passed away aged 26. It’s currently unclear, however, how the young actress/model died.
     
  • Frank Lampard has been sacked by Chelsea 18 months after taking over as boss of the English football club. Former Dortmund and PSG coach Thomas Tuchel’s understood to be replacing Lamps.

ABOUT THIS NEWSLETTER

This weekday newsletter is brought to you by Trident Media, a group of Malaysian journalists with 60 years of combined media experience in four countries across TV, print and digital media.

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Trident Media · Seksyen 35 · Shah Alam, Selangor 40470 · Malaysia

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