A Century On, Still Unprepared

Lessons Not LEarnt

No one in the entire world today was alive when the Spanish Flu devastated the globe with millions of deaths and even more in suffering, pain and economic agony, when it struck more than 100 years ago. Now, more than a 100 years on, we look back and see the similarities with Covid-19 and how unprepared we are. Unfortunately this Covid-19 pandemic is not going to be the last pandemic we will ever see. Not us, maybe, but our future generations will definitely see replays and/or repeats of the same scenario, sometime in their lifetime.

We hope and pray that our generation will come out of this Covid-19 pandemic with the minimum possible impact but with lots of lessons learnt that we can pass on to our future generations in meeting such disasters.

Today, as the Covid-19 Pandemic ravages countries globally with Malaysia being equally effected, we stand to continuously lose countless lives and economic ruin IF correct steps and measures are not put in place. Not waiting for tomorrow or the next year but TODAY. Yes. TODAY. As the world talks of flattening the curve, every country seems to be doing its part to effectively eradicate this pandemic off the face of the earth but MORE IMPORTANTLY all countries have to remember that this pandemic needs a multi-pronged approach namely on the MEDICAL FRONT and the ECONOMIC FRONT. Whether we like it or not, these two issues are intertwined to the extent that overcoming one and ignoring the other will eventually spell doom for everyone.

The MEDICAL FRONT

It all starts with Testing, Testing and Testing.

Unfortunately, given that testing in Malaysia is at an extremely low of about 30,000 over the last month or so, Malaysia may be unwittingly heading towards a medical disaster.  While, It is wise that our medical authorities are aiming a high of 16,000 tests per day from April 2020, it only reflects 0.03% of the population per day or 0.9% per month. At this rate we may need almost 6 years to test the entire population, if needs be. That’s stretching it too far and may not be necessary. However, it goes to show that Malaysia needs a proven, systematic, reliable and speedy testing process which has to be put in place. Immediately.

Currently all our thousands of frontliners are dramatically faced by huge burdens and pains of responsibility while working in an environment of fear and reluctance. These include fatigue, stress, insufficient support and lack of testing kits, which, in a situation that cannot afford any delays or margins of error, IS DOING EXACTLY THE OPPOSITE. Working in a stressed and fatigued environment while dealing with insufficiencies, human error will only increase dramatically over time IF these burdens are not relieved .

Towards this end, mass testing and speedy reliable analysis with proven tools with the use of Artificial Intelligence (preferably within minutes per test) to empower our presently understaffed doctors and frontliners to achieve better results speedily and reliably, IS THE WAY TO GO. This option, if employed optimally, WILL dramatically reduce the burden currently faced by our thousands of frontliners and go a long way to help flatten the pandemic curve.

The ECONOMIC FRONT

In addition, when Malaysia is faced with a pandemic such as Covid-19, we, not only stand to sacrifice thousands of lives due to medical setbacks but also huge amounts of income loss and economic strain while dealing with additional expenditure in increased medical costs and economic upheavals. The biggest end-result would be that thousands may lose their jobs and unemployment will become a mainstay. Stimulus Packages and other feel good factors are good short term approaches, but unfortunately, shall not be able to effectively address the root problems of the pandemic and the resultant economic shutdown.

The best way to bring our country back to its feet, economically speaking AND to regain the faith and trust of the Rakyat in the shortest time possible, apart from handling the medical related issues, is to get business entities, big and small AND especially the small and medium enterprises (SMEs) which forms the biggest spectrum of tax payments and employment, to restart their operations in the shortest possible time, immediately after the MCO is lifted and eased.

While Putrajaya is targeting millions of foreign visitors to the country this year with tourist spending originally targeted at more than RM100 billion or about 7% of the country’s GDP, has been put paid by the drastic reduction and cancellation of tourist arrivals. The tourism industry alone is expected to lose more than 50% of their targeted income, if not much more AND this will not change any time soon. The Malaysian Association of Hotels said up to 157,000 room bookings valued at RM66 million had already been cancelled over the last 2-3 weeks and much more is expected in the near future. Most of the cancellations involved visitors from mainland China besides Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Vietnam and Europe.

The advise from the health authorities that mass gatherings be put off for a period of six (6) to twelve (12) months after the MCO is lifted, is another blow to the industry while further affecting domestic operations dependent on celebrative and religious rituals.

Apart from the tourism industry, Malaysia has to be prepared to face adversities in multiple fronts. These will include the following:

Foreign Direct Investment (FDI)

  • Loss of new foreign investments;
  • Relocation and/or closure of presently operating foreign investments;
  • Production cut down due to lower global demand resulting in retrenchments;

Supply chains and Commodities including Palm oil and Oil & Gas.

  • China has become Malaysia’s largest export destination for the first time, with exports totalling RM139.61 billion. A mere 10% drop in exports would cost the country RM13.9 billion.

The group that will be the most hit will be the lower income individuals and workers and small businesses commonly known as the B40. A good portion of the M40 group ca also be expected to be affected.

Where are these people going to work? Will they even have jobs anymore? What about the companies that employ them? Will they go into financial ruin? If they do THEN tax collection would be  affected and government coffers would come crumbling down leaving the government with little or no money to provide for the Rakyat.

To put the common man’s perspective of the post Covid 19 future, here’s an extract from an interview conducted by Malaysiakini:

Right now, we’re all thinking about whether we get the virus and die or not, but when all this is over, we’ll have to pick up the pieces and that’s when we’ll start thinking it’s better that we should have got the disease and died. Cheaper and less painful.” – MalaysiaKini interview with shop owners.

AmBank Group has conservatively estimated a GDP forecast of 4.6%, a reduction of 0.4%, the drop is equivalent to RM6.4 billion as quoted below:

 “If we take the estimated GDP nominal value of about RM1,600 billion for the full-year 2020, a 0.4% drop will be around RM6.4 billion. Slower growth would affect business cashflows and orders. It will add pressure on retrenchment as more companies downsize.”- Dr Anthony Dass (AmBank Group Chief Economist and Head of research)

This Covid 19 pandemic will have devastating effects on the Malaysian economy from both external factors (global supply and demand shocks) and domestic factors (MCO).

Critically, this will disproportionately impact smaller businesses and vulnerable groups such as lower-income individuals and workers, especially the B40.

This would mean the economy would be operating below its potential level for years to come as there would be unused resources (labour and capital) in the economy.

Again AI may be able to help the government to effectively keep check on these shortcomings to a very low level AND to alleviate the same for the betterment of the Rakyat.

Failure to do this will undoubtedly shake the faith of the Rakyat in the Government, goodwill that the Government cannot afford to lose.

In the MEDICAL FRONT

  • We need to increase testing multi-fold to identify all undetected cases across the country in an inexpensive, reliable and speedy manner with proven technology;
  • We need to conduct and obtain test results within minutes as compared with hours and days presently;
  • We need to take effective measures to isolate infected persons;
  • We need to help reduce burden of risk, fear and inefficiencies faced by frontliners;
  • We need to effectively Implement SOPs’ that allow for effective containment of the pandemic spread of Covid-19;
  • We need to assist medical facilities cope with the influx of cases so that hospitals are not as overwhelmed as seen in countries such as Italy and Spain;

In the ECONOMIC FRONT

  • We need to help rescue businesses by creating an environment to allow them to resume operations speedily under Modified MCO state;
  • We need to ensure that business shutdowns, retrenchments and lay-offs are kept to a bare minimum;
  • We need to help create a positive economic environment for Malaysia as favoured by FDIs;
  • We need to help create business confidence amongst local and domestic investors;

And Generally In the POLITICAL FRONT

  • The Govenrment needs increase and win over the Rakyat faith in the Government;
  • The Government need to help prepare Malaysia for other such calamities in the future;

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