Among the ASEAN countries battling the corona virus disease 2019 (COVID-19), Malaysia has been surprising its neighbors with its high recovery rate. Data from the Embassy of Malaysia in the Philippines as of 17 May, showed that there are 6,872 positive cases. Those who have perished are 113 and as of 13 May, no doctor but one nurse succumbed to the disease. Its recovery rate, meanwhile, has been the subject of curiosity for many of its neighbor as it is comparatively higher than its neighboring countries. Malaysia’s recovered cases is at 5,512.
Malaysian Ambassador to the Philippines Norman bin Muhamad shared to the Daily Tribune that this is the result of the collaborative efforts between the Malaysian government, authorities and its people.
He underscored that it was their “steadfast” and “strong sense of responsibility” that is helping them fight the disease that started in Wuhan, China in December 2019.
Compared with the Philippine’s response mainly through quarantining majority of the population, Malaysia opted for a more relaxed approach to contain the virus.
“One of the deciding factors is the fact that Malaysia recognized the COVID-19 problem quite early and took decisive actions. Malaysia imposed the Movement Control Order (MCO) fairly early on 18 March 2020 and has only recently loosened the restriction to a degree to allow for economic activities while still adhering to certain rules to curb the spread of the disease,” the ambassador noted.
Strong medical system
Mohamad said Malaysia employed existing laws and acts, such as The Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases Act 1988 or Act 342 and the Police Act 1967 to allow the imposition of MCO. Under Act 342, the government was able to mobilize all its machineries to address the spread of the pandemic.
The MCO adopted four phases to flatten the curve of infection and eliminate the infection chain. These stepladder phases are the Alert Phase, Early Containment Phase, Late Containment Phase and Mitigation Phase. Each period lasts approximately 14 days.
“It is very important to ensure that the medical system in Malaysia does not collapse during the pandemic. Appropriate steps were taken under the phases based on daily and weekly statistics of infection, recovery and deaths. This enabled the government machinery to be flexible, pragmatic and work seamlessly in addressing the spread of the disease,” he explained.
Malaysia currently has 48 testing facilities. In a press conference, health director-general Datuk Dr. Noor Hisham Abdullah on 24 April shared the country is headed towards achieving 16,500 RT-PCR (Reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction) tests a day.
Ambassador Muhamad shared that in Malaysia, identified suspects are immediately quarantined while those infected are isolated and treated accordingly.
In April, the Malaysia Communications and Multimedia Commission designed a mobile application called Gerak Malaysia. The app helps “authorities in tracing and analyzing users’ movement and location nationwide to contain the spread of the pandemic.” The authorities will know the location of citizens’ home when passing through a roadblock and for hospitals and clinics to track if they have passed through a red zone and to ascertain if a citizen have the permission to move inter-state.
Ambassador Muhamad also shared that they have also considered the impact on the economy of the pandemic. Thus, their government has come up with means to help curb the spread of the disease but at the same time provide relief for businesses.
“The Malaysian government is utilizing the ‘high impact, low cost and rapid execution’ principle for national development/crisis management to get identified sectors, including those from the private sectors such as the hotel industries, to come together in a coordinated effort to combat COVID-19. For examples, hotels around the country were invited to participate as quarantine facilities where officials from the Ministry of Health are stationed to monitor the situation. This win-win approach enables the government to increase its quarantine capacity while saving precious hospital beds for the truly sick. At the same time, participating hotels received revenue that will ensure its survival during the MCO that sees no incoming tourists.
Malaysia was also quick to come up with an Economic Stimulus Package where the first group that was addressed was from the vulnerable groups and followed immediately by the SME sectors,” he shared.
The diplomat also noted the Malaysian public’s strong sense of responsibility and their understanding of the need for the MCO. In addition, many Malaysians donated money and materials to make personal protective equipment.
The Ambassador also shared that it is imperative for them to work with its ASEAN neighbors. He shared the good news that ASEAN is talking to its dialogue partners like China, Japan and South Korea on ways and means to battle COVID-19 and the subsequent economic recovery.
In the Philippines, the Embassy is working on repatriating its stranded nationals and have managed to send them back to Malaysia. In the same light, they have collaborated with the Philippines’ Department of Foreign Affairs and facilitated the return of more than 250 Filipinos stranded in Malaysia. In the coming weeks, they are looking to repatriate more stranded Malaysians in southern Philippines.
More work to be done
Their numbers may be good but Ambassador Muhamad shared that the war on COVID-19 is far from over.
“Malaysia has had some success in battling COVID-19. Malaysia has been extremely fortunate that the government has been able to employ the necessary machinery to control the spread of the disease. It is a testimony of the efficiency and dedication of the public service; the frontlines, the health workers, the administrators, the police, the army and countless many others, that we have been able to weather the pandemic. The public has been behind these efforts, and that is one of key factors to our success,” he stressed.
When asked if Malaysia can share any tips or pieces of advice, the Ambassador indicated that Malaysia is in no position to share any advice to any country since they are still battling the pandemic in their own soil.
“What we can share is that a country must recognize that it has a problem in the first place and resolve to tackle the pandemic together as a nation. We must muster all our resources, put aside our differences and prioritize battling this pandemic as our most urgent task. Everyone must understand and accept that we have no choice but to do it together. It is truly a do or die situation,” he offered.
He reiterated that the government must be “transparent” with the measures it is taking and the reasons behind it. But at the same time, the public must be “informed, educated and consulted.”
“We need to continue having dialogues with each other to leverage on our combined experiences and resources if we are to come out of this devastating pandemic together. The key word here is together. No country can be safe if even just another one (country) is not. We cannot be safe on our own. We need to be safe together or not at all,” he said.