In fighting this Covid-19 pandemic, we must first accept that we are at war. It is not something we can afford to take lightly. We must mobilise all resources to fight this war, and not to be distracted by anything else. If the response is not greater than the spread of the virus, Covid-19 wins and Malaysia loses.
The current half-hearted lockdown measures will not improve the situation much. We might still have closer to 10,000 reported cases and more than 100 of deaths each day for a long time to come, which will have disastrous effect on the healthcare system, the economy and most importantly the wellbeing of all Malaysians.
Yet, even if there is a genuine total lockdown, we can’t be in a curfew-like situation forever.
We need to press a reset button to fight back against Covid-19. This reset button can only come in the form of a national mobilisation of testing and vaccination.
If those in power cannot imagine a war campaign, think of it as a 21-day election campaign. As such, it is the time to put testing and vaccination at the centre of our strategy to overcome this pandemic.
The nation should enter a 21-day period of well-prepared national mobilisation campaign with mass testing and efficient rollout of vaccination. The aim is to finally have an upper hand in our war against Covid-19.
In this 21-day campaign period, civil servants, the armed forces, police, NGOs, religious leaders, uniformed bodies and volunteers should be mobilised to bring as many people as possible out for covid screening and inoculation, as fast as we can.
It is easier and more convenient to test now. Besides PCR tests, rapid antigen tests and self-testing kits are also available for quick and mass screening. Another option to consider is the covid breath test that gives result in a minute, recently approved for use in Singapore.
In the United Kingdom, its National Health Service provides self-testing kits which are distributed for free to all UK residents, up to two sets per week. If one is tested positive, he or she only has to scan a QR Code to report to NHS, and arrangements for home quarantine would be made.
A national mobilisation to test massively, aiming to test 15 million people in 21 days, with half of these done through easily administered self-testing kits, would mean we can detect tens of thousands of cases each day, most of them asymptomatic.
At present, the daily announced cases might only be a fraction of the actual number. A data site puts the estimated infections of Malaysia on 5th June 2021 at 60,768 cases.
In the national mobilisation campaign, all tested Covid-19 positive and their “B” (first degree contact; close contact with a confirmed Covid-19 patient) and “C” (second degree contact; close contact with a “B” person) contacts should be isolated, mostly at home.
Allowing people to undergo home quarantine also means that they should be given a comprehensive SOP and symptom-monitoring guideline for reference.
They should also be provided with a quarantine wrist band and an electronic monitoring system in the form of an enhanced MySejahtera app or other related tools.
We could be isolating up to a million people if we successfully test 15 million people over the period of 21 days. Those who cannot be quarantined at home can be put up at hotels, community halls or even emergency field hospitals in the vicinity. This ‘whole-of-government, whole-of-society’ approach would require coordination and collaboration between different ministries, local governments and organisations.
Each of those quarantined during this period, especially those in the lower income bracket, can be compensated RM50 per day to cover their needs.
Both testing and vaccination must be done within the same mobilisation period. At least half of the population should vaccinated within a 21-day period by deploying all personnel and resources available to the government and society.
To combat Covid-19 and to save lives, the government can’t afford to be too thrifty. Financial resources required in such a national effort should be provided.
Without a national reset, the economy will be stuck in a vicious cycle with high caseloads and no sight of light at the end of tunnel.
For such big-scale mobilisations to be successful, district-level pilot mobilisation projects can be tested before a national rollout. Enlightened state governments may want to consider such endeavours though admittedly federal endorsement and cooperation are prerequisites for success.
On prisoners and undocumented migrants, we need a kinder way to deal with the situation. No, it is not about having a feel-good solution. It is purely to ensure there would not be no more Covid-19 outbreaks.
It is time to press on a massive reset button and change our approach in fighting Covid-19. With the pandemic under control, lives and daily activities can then slowly open up - a moment we have all longed for - with new norms observed, including easily available test kits, preferably affordable if not free.