Comment | By Wong Chun Wai

Let this be the last lockdown

THERE is a lot of unhappiness on the ground. The extension of the lockdown has not surprisingly gone down badly, with most Malaysians grappling with the raging Covid-19 pandemic.

Many have lost their jobs or will lose them soon. Their loan-servicing has gone bad, and putting food on the table has become increasingly difficult, especially for daily wage earners.

For many small businessmen, their businesses have folded up and it can only get worse.

It’s a tough call for the Prime Minister. He is caught in a perfect political storm as his opponents step up their criticism of his handling of Covid-19, which continues to hover at around five thousand cases a day.

If he had decided to be a populist by ending the lockdown, he would have been attacked viciously for being irresponsible.

His decision has also been greeted unhappily, but I am sure he would not want Malaysia to go the way of India where the health system collapsed.

It’s a lousy time to be a Prime Minister everywhere, but those who have managed to take their countries back to normalcy will earn political dividends even though they started badly, like in the United Kingdom.

The key here is vaccination. Malaysia needs to achieve this as fast as possible. The government needs to set their target ahead of time, and it’s best we hit herd immunity before the year is out.

We can’t afford to have more lockdowns. Malaysia will crumble because we do not have the financial means to cushion our economy. For example, those who have lost their jobs will not get paid benefits for furloughs, unlike rich countries.

Singapore has taken the right approach – the Covid-19 pandemic is here to stay, and we must learn to live with it.

But it has been able to do so because it has successfully won the fight, and most Singaporeans and expatriates have been vaccinated.

The island republic’s plan is simple. Get vaccinated and live with it, but no date has been fixed for this plan. Officials also plan to loosen travel restrictions, gathering limits and social distancing requirements to fully vaccinated individuals. In addition, it has been reported that Covid-19 testing will shift from being used for quarantines to being used for ensuring social activities can happen safely.

Singapore is a disciplined country, it is run systematically. Its politicians don’t run foul by breaking standard operating procedures (SOPs) which they are supposed to uphold.

What is not said is that Singapore is preparing itself for the reopening of the country and the plans are being laid out now.

It has a plan, for sure, but a few details are being floated to see the reactions to the move. Singapore does not talk first and work out the plans later.

Their ministers have also written carefully crafted opinions in newspapers to share their plans instead of speaking off the cuff, unlike some of our ministers, and sometimes, making a mockery of themselves.

We do not need a political science professor to tell us there is a trust deficit among Malaysians.

And while Singapore has devoted itself to reopening the economy, our politicians are devoted to the reopening of the Parliament. Most of us have suddenly become Constitution experts, rightly or wrongly.

So, if we are unhappy with the nationwide lockdown, what do we want the government to do? Shooting off toxic messages in social media, with name-calling, will help release steam, but it won’t help.

Maybe for a start, we should suggest that the government allow states which have seen a drop in the number of cases to move on to phase two of the National Recovery Plan (NRP).

Half of the daily Covid cases are from Selangor, but it has also taken a slight dip as of Monday (June 28). Perlis has five, Terengganu 23, Penang 88 and even Kelantan has 101.

Yes, we cannot take our foot off the brakes, but a more flexible approach needs to be considered.

Businesses regarded as non-essential need to be reopened as the owners are in danger of losing their contracts and even sued if they cannot fulfil them. The losers will be the factory workers.

Our governments have not explained well why some factories are allowed to operate and have caused questions to be raised, even of a racial tone.

The reason is simple – our country’s exports are at risk, and these factories employ hundreds of thousands of workers, both Malaysian and foreign.

To encourage vaccinations and for the economy to reboot, those who have had the two doses should be allowed to travel out of state without permits and attend places of worship.

The most asked question is this – after a lockdown of two weeks, the number of infections has not gone down. After the extension, what happens if the numbers remain the same and even if it hovers around 4,000, it is not something to celebrate.

According to the NRP, we will then proceed to phase two, where some sectors will reopen although large gatherings will still be banned.

Seriously, it’s time we look at the worst-case scenario and prepare for that situation.

Perhaps, it isn’t easy to make the forecast even though there are projections. That also explains why announcements are made late.

Japan has found itself in the same predicament.

Case numbers in Tokyo have been creeping up over the past week since Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga lifted the state of emergency imposed to rein in infections. Any sharp increase could mean the emergency is reintroduced, further restricting residents’ activities even while the Olympics are taking place.

He reportedly said the government must be on high alert as cases begin to rise in the capital, about three weeks before Tokyo hosts the summer games.

”While there is a downward trend across the country as a whole, there is a slight upward trend in the capital region,” Suga told reporters Monday (June 28).

”We must be on a high state of alert in dealing with the virus.” He added that he would be nimble in adjusting policies to deal with the situation.

The seven-day moving average of new infections recorded in Tokyo rose to 477 on Sunday (June 27), compared with 388 the previous week.

In Sydney, millions of residents began the first full day of a two-week coronavirus lockdown on Sunday as Australia imposed new restrictions to contain an outbreak of the highly contagious Delta variant.

Australia’s northern city of Darwin also entered a separate snap 48-hour lockdown on Sunday after a handful of cases were linked to a coronavirus outbreak at a remote gold mine.

In Jakarta, there have been calls for a lockdown after 30 doctors died of Covid-19 this month as the country battles a second wave of the disease driven by the Delta variant.

This last lockdown should have ended, but it hasn’t. Let this one be the last by working hard on it.

If the pandemic doesn’t kill us, our politicians will.