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PN should manage our overloaded healthcare system, not slam us with MCO 2.0!

Press Statement
10th January 2021

Covid-19: Unclog the healthcare system, not lock down society

A year ago, during the second stage of our Movement Control Order (MCO), I wrote of two issues that needed to be considered for MCO to be relaxed i.e. statistics of Covid-19 cases and system preparedness. 

The former refers to flattening the epidemic curve, which is lowering the number of infected cases. 

The latter refers to the ability of our healthcare system to deal with new cases after MCO is removed or relaxed. 

In other words, the conditions for the relaxation of MCO are low Covid-19 statistics and high system preparedness.

Almost a year later today, after many cycles of MCO, EMCO, CMCO, and RMCO, we are unfortunately seeing a new and worse wave of Covid-19 infection here in Malaysia. 

This article does not seek to point fingers at who is responsible. My goal is to plead with the government to listen to the experts. 

There are rumours going around stating that the federal government will impose a fresh round of MCO next week. Many have spoken against another full-fledged lockdown like MCO. 

A list of 46 experts, academicians, and practitioners from the medical field recently issued an open letter to the Prime Minister proposing 10 critical actions for the government to take in dealing with this current wave of the Covid-19 infection.

In general, and also in line with what I wrote a year ago, the ability of our healthcare system to handle the testing, tracing, and treating (3T) of Covid-19 cases is vital to deal with the problem at hand.

Instead of locking down the whole society, the government must work against time to unclog the congestion in our healthcare system to enable quick execution of 3T work.

As long as the healthcare system is able to quickly execute 3T, the rest of the society can go about our lives – at least in the context of the new normal. 

However, the problem we face today is the jamming up of our healthcare system all the way along the stream – testing cannot be done quick enough, contact tracing is still painfully manual and slow despite the fact that most of us dutifully scan MySejahtera everywhere we go, there are not enough quarantine facilities, the whole system is understaffed with many frontliners in the medical sector already exhausted from fighting the pandemic for about a year by now. 

Even if we were to go back into another lockdown, without dealing with system preparedness, we will eventually go back to square one.

The system has to be unclogged urgently.

To unclog the currently congested public healthcare system, the government should mobilise all the help they can get. Many have urged for a greater whole-of-government and whole-of-society approache to deal with the pandemic. 

The key to this is to set up a bipartisan high level command council – with representatives from the opposition, epidemiologists, as well as experts and stakeholders from various sectors. 

Covid-19 prevention and management strategies should also be decentralised to enable prompt and localised response. Different states have different challenges, conditions, and cultures. For Covid-19 prevention strategies to be effective, local and state governments should be empowered with resources and devolution of power to command state-level strategies as much as possible. 

Business as usual obviously did not work and will not work. The government needs more heads at the table, and definitely more hands on deck. 

For example, the government can consider roping in the vast network of private clinics and hospitals all over the country to play a role in 3T work especially in mass testing, and later, to conduct vaccination exercise. 

Recently, the Penang state government reached an agreement with the Penang Medical Practitioners Society to enable 100 private clinics in the state to provide free Covid-19 vaccination service to Penangites when the vaccines arrive. This is to supplement government clinics in order to expedite the vaccination exercise.

Last year in Parliament, I urged the federal government to create new temporary contract jobs to mitigate increasing unemployment as well as to create an army of public health assistants all over the country to ensure compliance with Covid-19 SOP and the new normal. In the same spirit, my colleague, former Deputy Minister of Health YB Dr. Lee Boon Chye, has called on the government this week to hire 10,000 temporary contract staff to assist in 3T work. 

Another full MCO lockdown will definitely cause a lot of hardship especially to the B40, the working class, as well as small and medium businesses in several sectors. Last year, the Prime Minister reported that each day of the MCO cost the economy RM2.4 billion in losses. Many Malaysians and Malaysian businesses have not recovered from last year’s post-MCO impact. A fresh round of MCO for another month or even for two weeks will crush them even further. 

The government should therefore quickly unclog the country’s healthcare system to enable prompt handling of Covid-19 cases via 3T instead of locking down all of society. 

Steven Sim
MP for Bukit Mertajam

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