PETALING JAYA: Working towards a zero Covid-19 condition has now been dismissed as a bad idea.
“It is, in fact, absurd to wait until the number of cases hits zero before we start to open up the economy,” said Universiti Utara Malaysia economist Dr K. Kuperan Viswanathan.
“That will not happen.”
Kuperan said humanity should treat Covid-19 as a 21st century ailment that everybody has to learn to live with.
This can be done by adopting the right health regimes, with vaccination as one of the key defences against the disease.
More recently, several countries, Singapore among them, have relaxed various restrictions originally put in place to curb the spread of Covid-19, to enable citizens to lead a more normal life and most of all, allow the resumption of economic activities.
This was a departure from the original strategy of imposing very drastic measures to keep the coronavirus at bay.
There were extensive border controls, ambush-style lockdowns, forced screening and severe social distancing rules. Apart from that, severe penalties, including jail time and cancellation of work permits for rule-breakers, were enforced.
Countries that went that way included Hong Kong, Singapore, Vietnam, Taiwan, South Korea, China, Australia, and New Zealand.
Kuperan said the only approach that will work for Malaysia is to have its population, both legitimate and illegal, vaccinated as soon as possible. At the same time, he said booster shots should be made available where and when necessary.
“Malaysia should not close its borders. Ours is an open economy, dependent largely on international trade.”
“We need to open our economy as soon as possible and this starts with getting 70% or more of the population inoculated, just like the United Kingdom, Europe, New Zealand, Taiwan and Japan,” he added.
Universiti Malaya economics professor Datuk Dr Rajah Rasiah said a zero Covid-19 strategy would be in line with a policy to balance both the health and economic axes.
“When pursuing zero Covid-19, governments tended to shut down economies, thereby crippling production and distribution and, with that, connectivity between production and consumption,” he told theSun.
He added that New Zealand managed to keep the infection rate low to enable its economy to reopen and function smoothly, but it has not helped in Hong Kong and Singapore, where international trade makes up a significant part of their economies.
“In these countries, a zero Covid-19 policy would shatter supply chain linkages.”
Rajah pointed out that apart from liberal tax laws that have attracted significant regional and global operations, Hong Kong and Singapore rely heavily on entrepot connections and that shutting down such operations would damage these economies more than many others.
He said the Malaysian government’s National Recovery Plan emphasises efforts to reduce Covid-19 infections to less than 4,000, then 2,000, and eventually 1,000 over the four phases identified in the plan rather than aiming for zero Covid-19 infections.
“In contrast to the other countries, Malaysia has strongly retained its export policies until a brief freeze on exports during the enhanced movement control order,” he said.
“That explains why Malaysia has recorded its highest current account trade surplus since 2009 in 2020.”
However, Rajah said the closure of several industries due to their classification as non-essential industries has harmed the country’s “backward linkages”.
“For instance, tin smelting and tin can manufacturing have been halted since they are categorised as non-essential, but this has resulted in major disruptions in tinning in the food sector (which are considered essential).”
He added that a zero Covid-19 policy would have a significant impact on all industries, particularly small entrepreneurs and their employees.
“Given their low-income status and poor living conditions, they have not only faced severe impoverishment, they have also become vulnerable to mental problems and suicides,” he added.