Call on government to ramp up Covid-19 testing in Malaysia to introduce mass testing freely and widely available to all Malaysians as a vital post-MCO strategy to revive the Malaysian economic engine

Malaysia must from learn from the best practices of other countries like South Korea, Singapore and China in the invisible war against the Covid-19 pandemic so as not to repeat the nightmares that other countries like Italy, Spain, France, United Kingdom and United States are undergoing.

There are many battles to be won in the Covid-19 pandemic. The first one is the information war - to make Malaysians understand why it is necessary to put the Malaysian economy and society in a lockdown to halt the spread of Covid-19 by breaking the chain of transmission of the virus.

It is worth noting that Nepal imposed a full lockdown on March 24 when it had a second case of Covid 19. Eleven days later on April 3, it has six confirmed cases but no death.

In contrast, despite various forms of lockdowns, we have seen Covid-19 cases spreading explosively in several countries from March 24, namely - Italy (63,927 cases with 6,077 deaths on March 24 to 119,827 with 14,681 deaths), Spain (35,136 cases with 2,311 deaths to 117,710 cases with 11,009 deaths), France (19,856 cases with 860 deaths to 64,338 cases with 6,507 deaths), United Kingdom (6,650 cases with 335 deaths to 38,168 cases with 3,605 deaths) and United States (42,187 cases with 554 deaths to 272,760 cases with 6,991 deaths).

Singapore yesterday announced a month-long partial lockdown when its Covid-19 data increased from 1,049 cases and 4 deaths (death rate of 0.4%) the previous 24 hours to 1,114 cases and 5 deaths (death rate of 0.45%).

The Covid-19 pandemic is a series of wars, both in Malaysia and on a global scale.

First, we must win the information war not only to defeat the deluge of fake news about the Covid-19 pandemic, but even more important, to enable Malaysians to understand that the Covid-19 pandemic is not an ordinary virus outbreak, but an existential threat to our health, lives and the public health system as well as to the very economic survival of the nation.

Second, we must win the public health war against Covid-19, to contain the transmission of the novel coronavirus. Until a vaccine against Covid-19 is developed in 12 – 18 months’ time, social distancing through lockdown is the only way to break the chain of transmission and “flatten the curve”.

We must boost the Covid-19 testing facilities to track down people with symptoms, identify their contacts and quarantine them until they are no longer infectious, as well as ramping up the number of ventilators and hospital beds.

South Korea had been among the most aggressive when it comes to testing. The country prioritised identifying and isolating people testing positive for the disease, and developed capacity to run about 15,000 diagnostic tests a day. It has conducted more than 300,000 tests to date, free of charge, including in drive-through testing booths since replicated elsewhere.

Malaysia’s Covid-19 testing capability is now increased to 11,500 a day and aims to reach 16,500 a day. When the Covid-19 outbreak began, Malaysia’s testing capability was only at 3,500 a day.

As part of a “whatever it takes” approach to win the invisible war against Covid-19, the government should immediately ramp up Covid-19 testing in Malaysia to introduce mass testing freely and widely available to all Malaysians so that Covid-19 mass testing becomes a vital post-Movement Control Order (MCO) strategy to revive the Malaysian economic engine.

The third war is for Malaysia to survive and win the post-MCO coronavirus pandemic economics.

In Germany, Covid-19 pandemic economics will see almost half a million companies in Germany sending their staff on short-term working schemes — known as “Kurzarbeit” — to trim their payroll costs with immediate effect.

Short-term working worked well as a tool to prevent massive layoffs during the last financial crisis in 2008. It sends people home or slashes their hours substantially, but keeps them officially employed with the state funding around two-thirds of their salary.

Essentially, workers get as much as two-thirds of their pay even if they don’t work. And the company is not burdened by staff costs in times of severe economic stress.

The German government expects some 2.35 million people to be drawing “Kurzarbeitergeld” during the Covid pandemic, which could cost the German Federal Labor Office more than 10 billion euros.

In United Kingdom pandemic economics, the government is covering 80 per cent of workers’ pay, up to 2,500 pounds a month.

The Prime Minister, Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, should give serious consideration to these good practices for the Covid-19 pandemic economics for his long-awaited second economic rescue package, which should prioritise the government’s rescue of the small and medium enterprises (SMEs) omitted in his first rescue package.

Lim Kit Siang MP for Iskandar Puteri