Call for establishment of a Covid-19 Pandemic Study Centre to learn from the successes and mistakes of other nations and to ensure that Malaysia does not lead the world in using the pandemic to emasculate and marginalise Parliament

The Prime Minister, Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin’s telecast address last night is a great disappointment, failing to declare Parliament and the administration of justice as essential services in the Covid-19 pandemic and demonstrating that the government has still to draw up a plan to revive the economy.

Although Malaysia has done comparatively well in the international arena in the invisible war against Covid-19, having receded from top 18th country in the world to No.43 in terms of having the most number of Covid-19 confirmed cases and the ranking of No. 33 to No. 49 in terms Covid-19 deaths, we have still to learn from the successes and mistakes of other nations.

For instance, when Malaysia imposed the movement controlled order (MCO) on March 18, we had 790 Covid-19 confirmed cases and two deaths. On that day, United States had 9,269 confirmed cases with 116 deaths while France had 9,034 cases and 264 deaths.

Five weeks later day, Malaysia has 5,603 confirmed cases, with 95 deaths, while United States had a staggering 876,174 confirmed cases with 49,651 deaths and France has 158,183 cases with 21,856 deaths.

We are well past the peak of the curve in the present Covid-19 wave and in descent, and it is not too optimistic to expect not only the present double-digit daily increase of Covid-19 cases to fall to single-digit but even to look forward to the days with zero increase.

United States, however is still roaring ahead as yet to reach its peak while France is hoping that it has passed its peak. Nonetheless, the French President has just announced that France is to unveil its lockdown exit plan next week. France has been in lockdown almost the same time as Malaysia in mid-March.

There are, however, other countries which have done better than Malaysia, like Vietnam, which had 76 cases with no deaths on March 18 and now, 268 cases and still zero death and Taiwan which had 100 confirmed cases and one death on March 19 and now 427 cases and six deaths.

We should learn from the successes and mistakes of all countries, in particular the 10 top countries with the most number of Covid-19 confirmed cases, the United States (876,174 cases), Spain (213,024 cases), Italy (189,973), France (158,183), Germany (151,784), United Kingdom (138,078), Turkey (101,790), Iran (87,026), China (82,798) and Russia (62,773).

But we should learn from all other countries, including South Korea, Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore, Indonesia, Australia, New Zealand, even Brazil and Mexico, as this is a global epidemic and no country can survive by a lockdown which cut itself off from the rest of the world.

Australia has announced that it will keep its international borders closed for at least three to four months to protect itself from the coronavirus pandemic that continues to deepen in other parts of the world.

Is this the route Malaysia wants to take?

Every country is grappling with the problem how to find the best way to constrain the spread of the coronavirus and minimise overall harm health, society and the economy.

Although there was the recent good news that researches in the United Kingdom have begun testing a Covid-19 vaccine in human volunteers, this will take time and there is no guarantee that a vaccine could be developed. The World Health Organisation has just revealed that a potential treatment for Covid-19 had flopped in its first proper clinical trial.

Social distancing has come to stay, not only in Malaysia but all over the world, for the rest of this year and may be the best part of 2021, until a vaccine against Covid-19 is developed and available widely, which may take l2 – 24 months.

The lifting of the lockdown will have to be phased and localised. There will be no return to the old normality for a long time, if at all.

Malaysia should urgently establish a Covid-19 Pandemic Study Centre to learn from the successes and mistakes of other nations and to ensure that Malaysia does not lead the world in using the pandemic to emasculate and marginalise Parliament.

We must take heed of the warning from the United Nations Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, that the coronavirus pandemic must not be used as a pretext for authoritarian states to trample over individual human rights or repress the free flow of information.

He said what had started as a public health emergency was rapidly turning into a human rights crisis.

This is why Muhyiddin should convene an emergency Parliament on Covid-19 pandemic in April and Parliament should not meet just for one day on May 18, for it would be an example to the world of the use of the Covid-19 pandemic to emasculate and marginalise Parliament and undermine the Malaysian Constitution.

Muhyiddin must prove that he is Prime Minister for all Malaysians to defend all vulnerable groups who have fallen through the cracks of the MCO and to defend the Malaysian Constitution on the principles of the rule of law and the supremacy of Parliament.

The example set by the Court of Appeal to have a “virtual” hearing is highly commendable and the Prime Minister must give his support not only for Parliament to perform its fundamental duty of scrutiny of the government, particularly during the Covid-19 pandemic, but for the immediate holding of a digital Parliament and digital Parliamentary Select Committees.

Muhyiddin should also ensure that Parliament and all sectors of the Malaysian society should be full consulted in drawing up the best exit plan and strategy to contain the coronavirus, revive the economy and rebuild Malaysia – and most important of all, that the abuses of power and corruption which Malaysian voters repudiated in the 14th General Elections on May 9, 2018 do not make a comeback.

Lim Kit Siang MP for Iskandar Puteri