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9,000-plus daily cases! How it all went wrong for Malaysia

With negative public perception plaguing them from the start, how could the leadership assume the role of influencers to make a difference?

WONG SOAK KOON/ALIRAN

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Would our grandchildren believe us if we told them that, once upon a time, the president of the most powerful nation made public statements about using disinfectants to treat the coronavirus? 

Ignoring advice from medical experts, various quarters, including the media, spread misinformation on Covid-19. This sparked doubt and fear among Americans and others around the world. Even simple life-saving instructions such as the wearing of face masks, staying at home, physical distancing, hygiene and cleanliness were politicised and taken out of context and occasionally subject to conspiracy theories.

By the time the White House was finally ‘disinfected’ of Donald Trump, the damage was already done. Total Covid deaths worldwide have surpassed four million. The US, Brazil and India remain the worst hit countries.

Malaysia is moving up the table. Malaysia’s Covid deaths figure (around 6,000) has already surpassed China’s (below 5,000). Statistics and raw data provided by Malaysia’s Ministry of Health reveal the critical situation on the ground.

How times have changed. In the first half of 2020, many believed Malaysia was managing the pandemic well.

Then came the big bang and the political rollercoaster. A Sabah state election was forced upon us and all hell broke loose.

The government imposed a state of emergency in January, supposedly to curb the rise of new Covid cases. But the figures show emergency rule has not been effective.   

As public pressure mounted, the federal government declared a third tight lockdown hoping the situation would improve. But many observe that this lockdown appears to be only partial. 

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A recent article analysed the world’s worst pandemic management by current and former political leaders. It highlighted how they made little effort to combat outbreaks in their country – by downplaying the pandemic’s severity, disregarding science or ignoring critical health interventions.

Looking at the article, we can find some similarities with the situation in Malaysia.

When this deadly virus began attacking us, our political operatives were busy with the ‘Sheraton Move’.

The initial super spreaders were the Sabah state election and a major religious function. Selangor is now the new epicentre of the pandemic and records the highest number of daily cases  

Shortages of relevant equipment and critical resources plague several major government hospitals. Were there inadequate preparations to deal with the deadlier variants?

Incoherent leadership from Putrajaya may have led to an inability to mobilise public support and cooperation. Confusion and distrust reigned over the type of vaccines and the registration process. Misinformation on the vaccines and Covid spread like wildfire.

A dysfunctional and an incompetent team of political leaders were empowered to handle the crisis. They were unable to strategise or work with relevant stakeholders and the commercial sector to kickstart the economy. The various ‘SOPs’ (standard operating procedures) were incoherent, contradictory and confusing.

Many Malaysian politicians, especially those holding the fort at Putrajaya, may now be classified as mere buzzers rather than influencers. Amid all the noise, they have lost the plot and any semblance of influence – what more when Parliament was shut down, and many see those in Putrajaya as the backdoor government.

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With such a negative perception plaguing them from the start, how could the leadership assume the role of influencers to make a difference?

Dominic Joseph is a keen political observer based in Sabah

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