THE government is harping on how vaccinations will help fight the Covid-19 war but the sad fact is that because we were late taking off the blocks here, it will still be at least two months before we see some results and probably have to wait until year end when at least 70% of people are vaccinated.

The fully vaccinated make up just 14% of the population now. Meanwhile, mounting Covid-19 deaths and the number of infected keep rising and a national infectivity rate of nearly 1.2 (every 100 persons infects 120 others) is clear indication that the lockdowns, inexplicably, are simply not working.

We are not like the United Kingdom (88% of people have received two doses) where while infected cases are reaching record levels, deaths are only a fraction of what they used to be. For us, both daily deaths and infections are at or around record levels and rising fast, as seen in the charts below. That’s really, really bad.

And there is no sign of it letting up for our beleaguered hospital workers and facilities as serious cases of Covid-19 have to wait in corridors and outside emergency rooms for beds while bodies pile up faster than they can be properly disposed of.

It’s a dire situation that needs to be handled now through concrete measures instead of repeated platitudes of how we are pressing forward with vaccinations after that late start, for which the only satisfying explanation we have is that vaccine supply was limited then.

On the health front, the numbers are going to rise further given the high infectivity rate and the inefficacy of lockdowns – so give the resources needed to hospitals. Extra beds, field hospitals, enlisting the help of private hospitals, changing public facilities to temporary health facilities, increasing the number of ventilators, etc.

All the powers are at the disposal of authorities, not just because of the emergency, but under long-standing health laws that have been in the statute books for decades. Use them judiciously but do not be afraid to make bold moves if that is what is necessary.

Re-examine quickly whether we need blanket lockdowns. Look at ways where it can be more targeted. Why lock down entire districts when the pandemic is localised within districts? A clear example – locking down Damansara when almost all of the infections came from the Pavillion development area.

For the sake of the country and the people, please work as one. The International Trade and Industry Ministry must not overrule what the Health Ministry decrees. The passage of money to oil the wheels of industry through quick, unjustified approvals must be stopped. Firm but reasonable action must be taken against workplace infections, but not more than is necessary.

If someone with Covid-19 enters a mall/supermarket/facility, there is no need to close the whole place down – track where he went, target those places for sanitisation and reopen as soon as possible. Seriously examine the possibility of targeted lockdowns instead of blanket ones. And focus on standard operating procedures being adhered to all times in any case.

Health authorities should be sanitising only targeted areas and focus on contact tracing when someone infected with Covid-19 has visited a public area. – SAIRIEN NAFIS/The Vibes pic, July 20, 2021
Health authorities should be sanitising only targeted areas and focus on contact tracing when someone infected with Covid-19 has visited a public area. – SAIRIEN NAFIS/The Vibes pic, July 20, 2021

And please, do not pander to populist policies to open up for religious festivals, whatever they may be – we should have learnt from the spike in cases post-Hari Raya Aidilfitri and the Ramadan bazaars, and we are going to see one more after Hari Raya Aidiladha with all the reopenings.

This is a needless, ill-conceived move that can only have come from politicians overruling the recommendations of health professionals, and which can have dire consequences on the Covid-19 war, pulling us back five steps for each step forward.

The other thing this government needs to do in a hurry is to help the poor – the B40 group. Get some cash into their pockets as soon as possible so some of them do not starve. I have outlined how it can be done in this article.

A true multipartisan approach to get immediate aid of up to RM50 billion to the B40 group should be approved at the coming Parliament meeting and RM2 billion for the hospitals.

This can be done by increasing the debt ceiling from 60% of nominal gross domestic product (GDP) in a year to 70%. Based on a projected GDP of RM1.57 trillion at current prices for 2021, this will free up RM157 billion to be borrowed, about three times what is needed immediately.  

If this can be done at the Parliament, it will give momentum and set the stage for further multipartisan support to fight the Covid-19 war and to win by setting aside political differences for the time being and putting all our energy behind the war effort instead of dissipating it through internal disputes.

If all our hearts, sinews and minds are to be bundled to fight the war, then we need to be given the information to do it. Tell it to us like it is. Prepare us for the sacrifices we have to make. Explain why and make sense. Do not underestimate – or overestimate – the problem. Get all our brains in to think of solutions.

We cannot function if information is crimped at a crucial time like this. We need testing numbers. We need to know why the infectivity rate is trending high again. We need to know which factories have high infection rates, and how high.

We need to know not just the number of deaths but a breakdown according to age, sex and any pre-existing conditions they may have. Instead, there seems to be an attempt at restricting information to enable proper analysis as this article suggests.

Just remove all the hindrances – put a moratorium on bickering, on politics, and yes, that biggest blight ever: corruption – and take this opportunity to get rid of those forever. If the pandemic forces us to accept these new norms in all areas and embrace them, we will win this war and all others that come our way which we can’t avoid.

Do we have a choice? – The Vibes, July 20, 2021

P. Gunasegaram agrees with Einstein and whoever else who says the same way of doing things will simply elicit the same result. He is chief executive of Sekhar Institute and editorial consultant of The Vibes