APR 22, 2020

[REFSA DISCUSS #2] COVID-19: Crisis Preparedness and the Whole-of-Society Response


REFSA’s second webinar aimed to explore and discuss the necessary robust holistic response from the society to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic, which has a wide-reaching impact on the lives and livelihoods of the population. This call for a coordinated ‘whole-of-society’ effort is needed to not only address the current public health crisis, but also unearthed inherent weaknesses in the economic and social structures that have been accepted as a global convention for decades, leaving a large segment of the population vulnerable due to the loss of earning opportunities. 

Key speakers were Professor Adeeba Kamarulzaman, Ms. Lilianne Fan, and Lieutenant-General Dato’ Pahlawan Dr. Md Amin bin Muslan. REFSA Research Director Ivy Kwek moderated the event. The event was covered by various media in English, Malay, and Chinese. Scroll to end for links. 

Ivy Kwek, Research Director at REFSA kickstarted the webinar by stating that there was a need to learn the right lessons from this crisis, emerge stronger and “build back better” towards future-proofing our economy and society. 

The first speaker, Professor Adeeba KamarulzamanDean of the Faculty of Medicine, Universiti Malaya underlined that “life will not be back to normal again”. While the scientific community is making progress in developing the vaccines for COVID-19, we should not bank all efforts on that, but instead, focus our attention on the crisis response to be put in place after the lifting of the Movement Control Order (MCO). To determine whether we are ready to lift the MCO, she opined that it does not only rely on the decline of the number of cases, but also on society’s preparedness to adapt to the “new normal”. She also stated that Malaysia is learning about monitoring and managing patients better and suggested that lower-risk patients could be isolated at community centres whilst the high-risk group to be treated at hospitals instead. In regards to prisons and detention centres, she proposed that the government could also look deeper into calls for personal drug use to be decriminalised and drew attention to the practice of some countries in releasing minor offence prisoners. She also emphasised the need for more attention to hygiene standards and practices to reduce the risk of an outbreak in these centres – most of which are overcrowded. Additionally, she emphasised that we cannot be relaxed on the issue of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) supplies, as hospitals will soon reopen to treat non-COVID-19 cases, particularly operations, which will need to be conducted with enhanced protection. 

Ms. Lilianne Fan, International Director and Co-Founder of Geutanyoë Foundation pointed out that the current level of restriction of movement to contain this pandemic has led the vulnerable groups to be even more vulnerable. She also highlighted that the pandemic has exposed many cracks in our social protection system – our categorisation of poverty has been problematic, while many in the refugee communities are undocumented and hence not captured in official databases, resulting in them not being able to be tracked, and subsequently accounted for. This poses a serious issue during a pandemic like COVID-19, which requires everyone’s response in containing it – already, the crisis has evolved to become an economic and a hunger crisis, and it is difficult to ensure that no one is left behind when information is scarce. Lilianne lauded the government’s efforts in providing free testing and free treatment for the refugees, and most importantly not arresting them, even though Malaysia has not been a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention. However, she cautioned that there was a rise in misperceptions and stigmatization being created about these refugees, and there are those who are using hateful and xenophobic language towards them.  Lastly, as this is a global pandemic, all countries must work together and approach this issue from a “Global Whole-of-Society Approach”. 

Last but not least, Lieutenant-General Dato’ Pahlwan Dr. Md Amin bin Muslan, Director-General of the Health Services Division of the Malaysian Armed Forces (MAF) illuminated on the roles of the MAF, emphasizing that it has two stated roles; to defend Malaysia against external threats, while also supporting civilian authorities in times of emergencies and crises. Both of these roles are equally important during the crisis response, he emphasized. The former role is concerned with dealing with traditional threats that may still present themselves during the crisis, while the latter underpins good civil-military relations in the spirit of Total Defence (HANRUH – Pertahanan Menyeluruh) as stated in the Defence White Paper tabled last year. Moreover, he stated that the Armed Forces was also instrumental in providing early warning intelligence about the virus based on social media monitoring in Wuhan, as well as staff preparation and planning.  MAF doctors and nurses are supplementing public health officials by taking up non-COVID cases, while also helping to staff the MAEPS quarantine centre, help with PCR testing, and helping to screen returning Malaysians at KLIA. Logistically, the MAF has also been responsible for keeping sea lanes open between West and East Malaysia, as well as heavy lift and medium-lift flights to move health supplies such as PPE and reagents between the two areas. Army logistics support have been instrumental with the disbursement of aid, meanwhile, the Air Force has been flying medium-lift helicopter sorties to reach areas inaccessible by land.

Various media covered the webinar, in no particular order:

Bernama, read here 

The Malaysian Insight, read here

Malaysiakini, read here

Malaysiakini, read here

Berita Harian, read here

China Press, read here

Sinchew, read here

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