FEBRUARY 9 — With anti-vax misinformation all over the place and the “I bet they died from Covid-19 boosters” brigade out in full force, it is obvious the national Covid-19 strategy needs work. 

Here’s a helpful list of suggestions gleaned from years writing press releases and social media organising:

1. Dust off that website

The primary problem right now is there is no central point for information. Everything is all over the place and I am a little bit tired of having to be the unpaid Erna News Agency (Ernama) for family, friends and hapless social media followers.

We have the CovidNow website — why can’t that be a simple and easy place for up-to-date information on SOPs, the latest information and directives?

As it is, the ministry’s special social media advisor’s main role seems to be doing a daily “Where’s Khairy?” when we can all just follow him on Twitter, thanks very much. 

2. Fight disinformation at its main sources

A man uses the MySejahtera trace feature. ― Picture by Ahmad Zamzahuri
A man uses the MySejahtera trace feature. ― Picture by Ahmad Zamzahuri

The biggest source for bad social media has to be WhatsApp forwards. There needs to be an official WhatsApp account that the very tired children of senior citizens who keep sending dodgy forwards can use to counter their parents’ missives. 

Facebook is also a hotbed of bad vaccine information — why not get someone to debunk the bad forwards or posts.

If we have people willing to report artists for caricatures, surely the government can expend energy to report or mildly threaten those who spread falsehoods about the vaccines and Covid-19.

3. Marshall the social media army

I don’t understand how the government can fund bots or random social media accounts aka cybertroopers but can’t use them for good.

Instead of harassing Opposition politicians or moral policing why can’t these actors of bad faith redeem themselves by fighting to spread facts?

Instead all I see is fawning social media accounts thanking officials for the vaccine when most Malaysians can recognise bootlicking when they see it.

In that vein there are plenty of sensible social media influencers the government can approach to help counter all the news about celebrities who are so anti-vaccine their spouses have to vaccinate behind their backs.

4. Have everyone on the same page

It’s not a secret that members of the Cabinet aren’t fond of each other, with some deputy ministers openly expressing their disdain for the heads of their ministries.

While I have next-to-no expectations of our Cabinet, is it really so hard to at least coordinate better on SOPs and information dissemination? 

If Minister A despises Minister C so much, then just have a go-between do the basic needful like forward PDFs. 

They can continue not liking each other’s faces in the meantime and allow the country to run as it should.

All the things I’m proposing are not rocket science and they shouldn’t be too expensive to make happen.

Like all things in this country, it’s a matter of will. The reality, no matter how many people refuse to accept it, is that our ways of life have irrevocably changed.

We must accept that masks, vaccine mandates and quarantine requirements are not going away for a long time yet.

There is no evidence that the virus will become milder anytime soon and “just letting it rip” will end up in the deaths of many Malaysians.

Another thing that so many Malaysians refuse to accept is that many of us have some kind of comorbidity. 

Whether it’s high blood pressure, a habit of smoking, old age, a weakened immune system or working in higher-risk environments, the risk to many of us is higher than some will admit to themselves.

I have resigned myself to more years of hermithood as my own various comorbidities combined, mainly due to my autoimmune disease, mean I have a much higher risk of both contracting Covid-19 and suffering worse effects. 

It’s not enough to just “look after myself.” The pandemic would be over sooner if we considered the welfare of everyone as a whole and treat each death as one that should not have happened.

In the third year of the pandemic we cannot continue to sacrifice lives at the altar of commerce. Lockdowns are not the answer but a radical reworking of how we work and live — that is what must happen.

There is no going back to normal. It is something we need to accept and what the government must communicate to everyone, instead of pretending that it will go away if we all mask up and be good little citizens.

One question I will still like answered is where are all those free masks promised us during the beginning of the pandemic?

Until that question is answered, if it ever is, I would settle for our Covid-19 communications improving by at least 10 per cent and the health ministry’s advisors learning that retweeting is not a communications strategy. 

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.