Industries Unite lays out detailed alternative strategy for government to handle Covid-19

Gurupatham and Cheong said overall infections have risen and the virus is now endemic despite the government's best efforts. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa
Gurupatham and Cheong said overall infections have risen and the virus is now endemic despite the government's best efforts. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa

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KUALA LUMPUR, June 30 ― A coalition of trade associations and chambers of commerce have urged the government and the prime minister to adopt a new and comprehensive course of action to curb the Covid-19 pandemic, after its prior attempts to do so failed.

Industries Unite (IU), representing 112 organisations, said the past 15 months have seen Putrajaya use every weapon in its arsenal to combat the pandemic, including the Emergency and a four-phase recovery plan.

Its joint presidents Datuk David Gurupatham and Datuk Irwin SW Cheong said despite all these measures, the numbers and percentage of overall infections have risen and the virus is now endemic.

“It is imperative to learn from our mistakes, as it is not about blame but rather about results. It is a time for everyone, including the rakyat to be united and work together,” they said in a statement.

Gurupatham and Cheong highlighted the apparent disconnection between government ministries, the federal and state governments, policymakers, enforcement agencies and the public, over policies, decision making, and communication.

“The National Security Council should be expanded to include all ministries, representatives from the trade and health industry, professionals and NGOs, for input and debate before a comprehensive three-year plan is conceived. 

“Improve communication and clarity among ministries, the federal and state governments, policymakers, enforcement agencies, and most importantly between the government and the public,” they said. 

Both recommended that communication be handled by well-trained professionals at the Communications and Multimedia Ministry, where information is clear and consistent.

They also suggested for timelines and key performance indexes be in an effective three-year recovery plan. 

On the national drive to immunise against Covid-19, Gurupatham and Cheong noted that despite being well-intended, the current plan for vaccination appears to be discriminatory, with its issues of supply, capacity and delays in reaching targets well-documented.

“IU recommends that all private pharmacies be allowed to purchase World Health Organisation-approved vaccines, and that all private GPs along with public and private clinics should be authorized to vaccinate people.

“A nationwide campaign to encourage people to register and to be vaccinated should be started, and its registration targets need to be ensured. The segments of the public who are vaccine-hesitant should be educated as well,” they said.

Both advocated for non-documented migrants to be vaccinated, and for MySejahtera to be complemented with a manual system, where MySejahtera is updated from the manual system on the details of those vaccinated and the recovery date.

“Fully-vaccinated people and those who have acquired immunity should be allowed to move freely. Industries with fully vaccinated staff and compliant with enhanced standard operating procedures (SOP) should likewise be opened.

“Such individuals could possibly be issued with a government-issued yellow band with an RFID chip that allows quick verification of vaccination status, as these RFID chipped bands will allow more people without smartphones to be tracked and traced at various contact points and for data to be collected and analysed in the overall strategy,” they said. 

Gurupatham and Cheong added that mass frequent testing should be made the norm, with data collected, analysed and input into a dynamic system of targeted control measures. 

“The current system of using and publishing total national members of infected persons as the foundation and benchmark of our recovery strategy has failed, analysts have shown the flaws, amongst others, it is based on subjective testing numbers. 

“This strategy could be abandoned, towards a simpler and more effective method. We must take into account the many people who have immunity from the vaccines, have had mild symptoms and those vaccinated,” they said.

The presidents said that the numbers should potentially be focused on people who require critical care in hospitals, deaths and work the numbers from there, as well as a composite based on mass testing. 

“As this virus is likely to be here for a while, some funds should be allocated toward research. Data sets should be compiled and analysed with artificial intelligence to have a clearer picture of how this epidemic unfolds, the more datasets, the more accurate our response in the future is likely to be.

“On the focus of reopening the economy, IU recognises that government handouts and subsidies will not work in the long term. The damage done to the economy at a loss of RM1 billion a day cannot be sustained forever, and the government has limited resources,” Gurupatham and Cheong said.

To counter the mounting problem of businesses facing closure due to a loss of revenue from Covid-19, Gurupatham and Cheong said peer-to-peer lending or private capital should be unlocked. 

“Unlock private capital, as many people have money locked up in the fixed deposits at record low-interest rates. Under the Cooperative Act, cooperatives are allowed to borrow from and lend to individuals. 

“Capping rates below bank lending rates will help individuals especially in the B40,” they said.

Similarly digitalising the process of peer-to-peer lending will reduce cost, red tape and allow verifications and speed up applications, disbursement and repayment of these micro loans on a peer-to-peer basis. 

The risk can be priced or guaranteed by the government, and this model can later be scaled up to a wider scale peer-to-peer lending mechanisms involving the M40 group.

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