Picking up the pieces after Covid-19

An Armed Forces personnel patrols the vicinity of Menara City One in Kuala Lumpur April 1, 2020. — Picture by Firdaus Latif
An Armed Forces personnel patrols the vicinity of Menara City One in Kuala Lumpur April 1, 2020. — Picture by Firdaus Latif

COMMENTARY, April 2 — The world is shut down and businesses have ground to a halt because of the Covid-19 pandemic and everyone is suffering as governments of the world over are scrambling to save lives and whatever is left of their economies.

The pandemic will pass, it is just a matter of how long we have to stay locked down but what is more frightening than the number of deaths and infections is what will be left for us after it is all over.

There are two extreme schools of thought as to what will happen when we are free again to carry on with our lives.

The optimists among us believe that there will be a pent-up feeling among the people when they are finally freed from our self-imposed imprisonment. There will be massive feel good amongst the people and we will all come out of this as better people, a better nation and a better world.

The economy will rebound in a V-shape manner, is the belief of the optimists, as people feel the urge to spend and help each other. They see cafes filling up again and hawker stalls doing a roaring business.

The pessimists, however, believe the opposite will happen. The suspicion and fear will continue as the people will still avoid each other as social distancing has become the mantra for survival.

A general view of the deserted Aeon Mall in Shah Alam as the movement control order kicks in on March 18, 2020. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa
A general view of the deserted Aeon Mall in Shah Alam as the movement control order kicks in on March 18, 2020. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa

Cafes and hawker stalls will continue to be empty or have already closed down as owners are unable to withstand the months of operating without income. What more unemployment rate would be high; they estimate that as many as two million of the 11 million working Malaysians will be without jobs as their companies retrench to survive.

According to them, this is the doomsday scenario.

I personally believe the truth will be somewhere in between where there will be an initial feeling of joy upon leaving our jails, some popular cafes and hawker shops will rebound stronger than ever but when reality steps in, we will all realise that the world has changed and we are much poorer than before this health lockdown.

There will be many things we can no longer afford, many of us will have to sell our cars, houses and possessions just to keep going. We must accept the fact we can no longer go back to the lifestyle we had before this.

Our parents and grandparents went through this during the Second World War. They suffered for five years and spent the next 80 rebuilding the world. Will we have their stamina to do the same?

If there was ever a time for a paradigm shift in thinking and the economy, this is it. The Malaysian Government must realise that we cannot rebuild the economy and protect the people on its own.

It must be a multi-lateral effort. We have to work with our neighbours as they need us as much as we need them. The channels to recovery must be open now so that when our gates are unlocked we can begin to trade and help each other.

I understand the present concentration of the government is to fight the spread of this Covid-19 and they are doing a wonderful job of doing so. But the cure must not be worse than the disease.

There must also be a team of experts looking at how to preserve our way of life, or at least some semblance of it when the end comes.

Direct financial help to the B40 and M40 is just like giving out vitamins as supplements in times of a pandemic — it helps but it is not the cure. How do we create jobs and income for them after the world recovers from Covid-19?

Is this the time for us to ACTUALLY shift our economy to one that is based on knowledge?

Our economy had been based on public spending for the past 60 years. So can the people, businessmen and tycoons operate without such spending?

A general view of traffic in Kuala Lumpur on Day Two of the movement control order March 19, 2020. — Picture by Ahmad Zamzahuri
A general view of traffic in Kuala Lumpur on Day Two of the movement control order March 19, 2020. — Picture by Ahmad Zamzahuri

The experts must find a long-term solution and not offer temporary ones for political expediency. This is our chance to reset the economy and our lives which have been torn to pieces.

Take a look at the sky and see how clear and blue it is. While we are sick, Mother Earth is getting healthier. Maybe we should take the cue from her and learn to pick up the pieces. We should see Covid-19 as our second chance to rebuild our lives into meaningful ones.

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