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Let’s do whatever it takes to win

By Raja Ahmad Iskandar Fareez

We should seize the opportunity during this lockdown to increase testing capacity to reach millions daily in line with suggestions by experts and policy makers.

By systematically identifying and isolating positive cases during this period, we can be assured to weed out any community spread once the country loosens its movement restrictions.

If we cannot contain outbreaks under strict lockdown conditions, what hope do we have in doing the same when we decide to open up our economy?

Post-lockdown, the country should aim to control and contain outbreaks without needing to go into another nationwide movement restriction.

The true mark of the effectiveness of pandemic control guidelines is their ability to allow Malaysians to carry on their respective lives with as little disruption as possible.

Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) should not be about blanket closures or openings of certain sectors but should detail out specifically how businesses or organisations can remain operational without endangering others.

Following the science and formulating SOPs and guidelines that are backed by data and evidence are essential in managing the pandemic while allowing people to go about their daily lives.

With more Covid-19 saliva-based rapid self-testing kits becoming available in the market, periodic testing can be another item in the arsenal to keep workplace outbreaks in check.

If the government can make these kits widely available and affordable, through subsidies or other measures, frequent proactive testing could be considered as a preventive tool for businesses to identify and isolate suspected cases and close contacts.

But, the uncertainties that arise once a person is confirmed positive might dissuade people from coming forward to test.

This includes factors such as conditions in the quarantine centres, requirement to bear the cost of foreign workers, and potential closure of operations. Undocumented migrants and refugees might also be reluctant due to fear of detainment or deportation.

For daily wage earners such as contract workers, gig workers, and freelancers, they will have to contend with potential loss of income as they might not be able to work during isolation.

Systemic economic support should be given in terms of food aid or cash transfers in cases where breadwinners of the household have to isolate.

Employers of foreign workers should have the option to quarantine positive patients in their own quarters, as long as the dwelling meets the requirements and patients are given the necessary equipment and guidelines to self-monitor.

We should not be cornered into choosing between saving lives or livelihoods. We need to save lives today and we must protect livelihoods so we can outlive the virus in the longer term.

If we plan carefully, and willing to spend and do whatever it takes to win this war, we can achieve both of these goals.

-Published in New Straits Times on 16 June 2021