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Malaysia’s Covid-19 response: Why so slow?

What is most frightening is the ease with which we are forgetting how quickly the virus is spreading

Sketch by Wong Soak Koon

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I was recently flagged by the MySejahtera contact tracing app.

The app informed me I had been a ‘casual contact’ of the coronavirus – meaning I had been in a place where someone around me had Covid!  

Questions ran through my mind as I went over and over the scenario at the grocery store. How long was I there? Who was around me? Whom did I speak to? Would the store be informed by the health authorities that someone there had the virus? Was the store sanitised?

I was freaking out before common sense prevailed. I also knew none of the questions running through my head then time would get any answers. Even though the app said that I could go about as normal, that was of little comfort.

So, because of what’s happened to me, I wonder what’s going on with the government’s vaccination plan. According to local media, 1.2 million doses have been given in Malaysia. Out of this number, some 750,000 have received the first dose and over 450,000 have been fully vaccinated  – that’s just 1.4% of the 33 million people in Malaysia. That’s just a drop in the bucket!

The federal government imposed a movement control order and declared a state of emergency in January, supposedly to curb the spread of the pandemic. Many felt this was not the real reason, but we took it in our stride and observed the movement restrictions.

But this state of emergency is not working. Covid cases have risen to over 2,000 per day, which, according to health director general Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah, is due to non-compliance with the restrictions. Really?

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Noor Hisham added that, for now, compliance with the restrictions remains the country’s only option to curb the rise in cases as the rollout of Covid-19 vaccines was still slow.

So where does the fault lie? Why is the rollout so slow? Which ministry or official will stand up and take the blame for this state of affairs?

The minister responsible for coordinating the immunisation, Khairy Jamaluddin, said the authorities had not yet decided whether there was a need to administer a third dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.

But the vast majority of the population of Malaysia have not yet received a first dose, never mind a third!

It was earlier reported that the government had procured enough vaccines to cover more than its herd immunity target. It aimed to inoculate 80% of the people by next February.  

I had thought that, when the vaccines arrived in Malaysia, the idea was to get at least 80% of the population vaccinated with the first dose. This is what the US, Europe and the UK are doing. Were there not enough of vaccines in the first place?

The second phase of the vaccination programme for senior citizens has begun, and, according to Khairy, is “on schedule” to achieve herd immunity by the end of the year. The minister is so fixated on schedules that it does not seem to bother him that cases are rising, the pace of registration for vaccinations is too slow and only a third of 9.4 million senior citizens have registered.

The minister also said that the third phase of the vaccination programme, meant for the general population, would be brought forward by a month because of the low registration by senior citizens.

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For some of us seniors who have registered, I would like to inform Khairy that we have not yet been informed over MySejahtera about the when and where. As only two 2 million seniors have registered, has the PN government done anything to allay fears about the efficacy of the vaccines? The blood clots, the uncertainty or lack of transparency over the Chinese vaccines, the mutant viruses and its impact on those vaccinated – maybe these could be the reasons why many people are hesitant.

And does the Perikatan Nasional government have any plan to stop people from travelling to and from India, where a second wave is spreading like wildfire? The UK, the US, Singapore and Hong Kong have banned travel to and from India. What is the PN government’s stance on this?

Cabinet members, please note: over three million people around the world have already died from this. What is most frightening is the ease with which we are forgetting how quickly the virus is spreading, while most people seem to be returning to their old way of life, with a mask or otherwise.

Jem, an Aliran reader, still cares deeply about Sabah, despite having lived in the peninsula for some time

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