Wake us up before August ends

JULY 15 — We, as in Malaysians, are in the great unknown. The decisions today, their value can only fairly be assessed much later, probably in 2022. But it’s the present we live in.

We need to be resuscitated sooner rather than later. Much sooner, like August. To move back the slated National Recovery Plan’s (NRP) Phase Three from probably September/October to August.

But, how to act when there’s no precedence, no guarantee of success?

Right now, every country, just like Malaysia, finds itself free to determine what it does next to move forward in a time of Covid-19. However, their various paths are vastly different.

United Kingdom’s Freedom Day — the return to pre-pandemic conditions, even if not to normality — is three days old. Cases spiked but hospitalisation and deaths remain manageable — as detached as it may sound. 

The Netherlands felt its June relaxations were premature and shut bars for now. Its former colony, Indonesia is now the new epicentre as it races to vaccinate its population. 

Meanwhile, Thailand completes half a month of Phuket Sandbox — a cocoon of vaccinated locals and tourists — 176,000 plus hotel rooms snapped up over the duration. Mindful, the enclave is a boat ride from Penang or Langkawi. 

Back to Europe, yesterday the Spanish courts ruled the pandemic lockdowns last year unconstitutional despite more than 80,000 killed by Covid-19. 

The Tokyo Olympics at the end of the month adopts competition bubbles. Athletes are limited from spectating other sports as stadium atmosphere is set to be sacrificed.

Where does that leave our federation?

There’s the old Malaysian temptation to take haphazardly from these nations’ respective lessons and rojak it.

We must suppress that desire in exchange for a cogent solution not short on courage.

Malaysia must do what’s best for itself, but it cannot be gripped by fear.

This country has to go back to work, study and life.

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An Armed Forces personnel is seen at the Taman Bukit Angkasa PPR amid the enhanced movement control order in Kuala Lumpur July 11, 2021. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa
An Armed Forces personnel is seen at the Taman Bukit Angkasa PPR amid the enhanced movement control order in Kuala Lumpur July 11, 2021. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa

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The National Recovery Plan(NRP) is a month old today. The four phases to normality are not contested but the speed to get there is — as this column expressed a month ago.

November, as prescribed presently, is too late.

Finance Minister Tengku Zafrul Tengku Abdul Aziz now doubles-up as NRP minister and held multi-stakeholder meetings the past few days. No demand for unnecessary hasty actions but surely a revised NRP is top of the agenda, along with standardised SOPs.

The national vaccination programme has sped up considerably, ostensibly completing the target inside 2021 and not 2022, then surely, the NRP timeline must follow suit.

Currently, Malaysia dishes out two million doses every five days. At the start of July, only 18 per cent of the targeted population had been jabbed once. Now midway through the month, it is 25 per cent. One in four.

Yes, it is one dose and not two, but the hospitalisation and death rates will drop. It is false to factor the same ratio of hospitalisation and death for a pre-vaccinated population and a considerably vaccinated population.  

This is why the daily new Covid-19 cases updates, even if five digits has to be broken down differently.

Rather than ask how many of the vaccinated are infected, the question should be how many of the vaccinated require hospitalisation let alone die?

Only a minority of the vaccinated acquire the virus, even fewer to be hospitalised and a lesser number succumbing to the illness.

With that in mind, an acceptable rate, including deaths must be determined.

And there’s relative silence in this regard.

When will the ministers — all of them esteemed and revered if that sugar coats it and stirs them into action — announce a new timeline for this increasingly vaccinated country?

And now to my home state.

Our national epicentre, Selangor, while the richest state is Opposition controlled — which unfortunately matters. This column asked for co-operation two months ago, federal working with the state and not against. Most of May and June suggested a deterioration rather than not.

Though positive signs emerged belatedly.

The number of centres and volume of vaccinations have multiplied in Selangor, but as the state with the most doctors, facilities and proximity to vaccine supply, it cannot be soon enough. Sustain the pace and Selangor hits 50 per cent first dose by the start of August, quicken it and it’s reached in 13 days.

Even if Putrajaya and Kuala Lumpur are almost completely vaccinated, they would not be liberated without Selangor — encircling both of them — matching up.

And again, take-up rates will ratchet up with mobility guarantees for the vaccinated.

Incentivised wholesale vaccination is the priority. The valley must wake from its enforced slumber, Malaysia needs that desperately.

But we don’t know

No one does, quite at this moment.

The space programme launch was not predicated on scientists giving the government moon rocks beforehand.

The only constant across the world is that countries are willing to wager more as a vaccine exists. They are held hostage occasionally by the court of public opinion, as setbacks are magnified by social media.

Malaysia has to fight its own cultural inclination to delay out of the fear of failing. It has the opportunity to set Merdeka as a culmination point to turn this around. When certainly more than half of Malaysians will have been vaccinated.

By the day, fewer Malaysians ask for a full lockdown, maybe two weeks ago, but not today. That boat has sailed, the train has left the station. It’s time to look to August with optimism, one with restrictions but one also with a return to considerable normality.

To have a proper Merdeka, and an even more awesome Malaysia Day.  

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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