By Lim Kit Siang
The Sars CoV2 virus which causes Covid-19 first hit our shores on the 25th January 2020, brought in by travellers from Singapore. We have been battling Covid-19 since.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) declared Covid-19 a pandemic on the 11th March 2020, and Malaysia declared the first lockdown on the 18th March 2020.
I still remember vividly the pandemonium that was on the night of the 17th March 2020 at the causeway. Workers were deciding whether to keep livelihood as jobs were in Singapore, or stay with family and lose jobs in Singapore.
It is now 9th May 2021, and we have had 2 MCOs, various EMCO, CMCO, RMCOs and now we are again in MCO 3.0.
Despite all the MCOs in whatever form or name, Covid-19 is still very much alive and kicking – in fact growing and spreading well.
Among the ASEAN community, Malaysia is performing the worse (apart from the heavily populated nations like Indonesia and the Philippines). Surely all concerned Malaysian are wondering what had happened.
Each MCO carries with it a severe cost, economically, psychologically and education-wise for our younger generation.
It is time for the country, and in particular the people in position of authority to seriously reassess the situation and also to seriously reassess their strategy.
To paraphrase Einstein, we cannot be doing “the same old thing, over and over again and expecting a different result”.
In fact Einstein called that “insanity”. Surely we Malaysians are not insane. We do not wish to make the same mistake over and over again, and seeing the numbers grow bigger and bigger after 14 months of trying, and after 3 MCOs and numerous CMCO, EMCO and RMCO.
Where did we go wrong?
In assessing the whole situation since March 2020, I would like to seek some honest answers from the Ministry of Health, who should be in-charge of controlling this Covid-19 crisis, for I believe that transparency by the government at this time will build public confidence.
We need public confidence more than ever now so that the public can work in tandem with the government. There is no doubt that all Malaysian want this infection controlled and life return back to as near normal and as soon as possible.
Everyday, the public gets a briefing from the Minister on behalf of the National Security Council. Then we have the Minister in Charge of Vaccines making statements about vaccines ( which is a therapy to prevent the infection ), and later the briefing by the Director-General of Health.
When they all sing from the same song sheet, the public understands. Often, they seem to sing from different song sheets.
That is confusing and creates mistrust and ambiguity. This recent MCO 3.0 SOP is a classic example. The instructions are conflicting and confusing, even for the Police. U turns do not and can never inspire confidence. It speaks of poor planning, not well-thought-out strategy, and almost like playing a fool with their authority.
I would like to ask the Ministry of Health nine questions, viz:
1. How many frontliners are there to do tracking and tracing whenever positive cases are reported? We have many Malaysians reporting that when they have a positive case, there is often no follow up, or follow up which is markedly delayed and that positive cases have to find their own way to seek help.
2. If there are insufficient staff to track and trace, what then is the use of screening test for people who are well. If the Ministry of Health cannot track and trace every positive case, then those screening test merely create panic (due to large numbers) without any benefit in terms of disease control. Would it then be better not to do screening until you have an adequate track and trace team? Just test those with symptoms as they need treatment and isolation.
3. If the Ministry of Health has insufficient track and trace staff, had the Health Ministry asked the Prime Minister for an additional budget to employ temporary contract staff to do tracking and tracing as this is an important arm for Covid-19 control?
4. We saw a spike in cases towards the end of 2020. At one point, we were seeing more than 5,000 daily cases in January. Were preparations made to create extra wards and personnel to man those wards, so that we will not be at breaking point now? The Ministry of Health had five months to prepare for this eventuality or was the Health Ministry lulled into complacency, thinking that the storm had blown past, even when a nearby country, India, was reporting a double mutation and a severe spike in cases as well as in the Philippines? Yesterday was the fifth time India recorded over 400,000 daily cases and the second time it recorded over 4,000 deaths. At its present rate of increase, India would overtake United States of America as the world’s No. 1 country with the most cumulative total of Covid-19 cases in a month’s time.
5. Did the Health Ministry not expect that with at least five variants of concern facing the whole world, B 1.1.7 (UK), B 1.351 (South Africa), P1+P2 from Brazil, P3 (Philippines), B.1.617 (Indian double mutation), they will not reach Malaysia? Did the Ministry of Health not anticipate that? Are we doing enough genome sequencing to know the prevalent strain or strains in Malaysia, to try and predict their behaviour?
6. With the slow and stuttering vaccine rollout, will we ever get herd immunity through vaccination? To get herd immunity, we will need to fully vaccinate 60-70% of our Malaysian population. Presently, medical experts think that vaccine immunity may last 6-8 months. No one knows for sure. In fact Pfizer is preparing for a booster vaccine at year end. If vaccine immunity can only last 6-8 months, and our vaccine rollout is so slow, by the time the last vaccine group get their first dose, the first vaccine group would have passed their vaccine immune period. Will we ever get herd immunity that way? Even the USA with their super efficient rollout under President Biden think that they cannot get herd immunity through vaccination.
7. Does the Health Ministry think that these vaccines can protect Malaysians against the ever emerging “variants of concern”, especially the South African strain, the Brazilian strain and the ravaging Indian double mutation? If vaccines cannot protect Malaysians against these new strains, what is the plan B of the Health Ministry?
8. Many Malaysians awaiting surgery for other diseases like cancers and brain tumours have died as they were asked to wait because hospitals were prioritizing Covid-19. What about heart surgeries, bone surgeries, gynaecological surgeries? Treatment of dengue, PTB (Pulmonary tuberculosis), bad diabetes, bad asthmas, chronic lung diseases? What is the price that non-Covid patients pay, while we prioritise Covid-19?
9. Recently, there is much news about using “Traditional Chinese Medicine” to treat Covid-19. It has proven quite successful in China. Would the Ministry of Health support its use for our patients who wish to have TCM?
I am asking these questions and hope to get the Health Ministry’s response, so that Malaysians are kept informed of the latest developments.
All Malaysians are very concerned as many are suffering badly – some from loss of lives and those of their loved ones, while others from loss of jobs and income. I have even heard of people sleeping in their cars or motor bike as they dare not go home because they have no money to pay their rent.
Malaysians are suffering and wish for this infection to go away as soon as possible. It is the rich who does not mind the MCO. For the poor living in a small flat, staying at home for hours with 8-10 others, they are suffering too.
Malaysia must sharpen the two weapons against Covid-19 – targeted lockdowns and aggressive vaccination without turning them into a charade.
Let us all work together to end this Covid-19 crisis. Malaysians are suffering. I hear and see their pain. Not a day longer than necessary please.
(Media Statement by DAP MP for Iskandar Puteri Lim Kit Siang in Kuala Lumpur on Sunday, 9th May 2021)
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This post first appeared on Lim Kit Siang‘s blog.