Strategies Of Reopening National Economy: Controversies Between Economists & Medical Experts

The Dilemma
Governments from different countries are facing the dilemma of reopening
their economies and ensure public safety against Covid-19 infection. Most
economists and medical experts tend to agree on short-term lockdown of a
country’s economy, however, most of them could not agree on the timing and ways to restart a country’s economy after the numbers of infections have been subdued. In the United States, federal government led by the US President, Donald Trump and the state governors have different opinions on when to reopen the states’ economy, especially those states worst-hit by Covid-19 and led by Democratic governors. The US President, Donald Trump wanted the US economy to reopen by 1 May, and states with less hit led by Republican governors tend to agree to the President’s concern – continue lockdown of the country’s economy means depriving livelihood of the people which will lead to disasters and social unrest. However, the Democratic governor of New York State, Andrew Cuomo thinks otherwise – although the numbers of infection may have plateau, earlier reopening might risk a second wave of outbreak and waste the efforts of lockdown and movement control. Trump’s concern represents economists’ point of view whose major concerns are on national economy, whereas Cuomo’s concern represents medical experts’ point of view whose major concerns are on the public’s health. Although these two points of view are different, one is concerned about the people’s livelihood or the other is about the public’s health, however, both are concerned about the survival of the people of United States. Put it simply-If you have a choice to choose now, either “die from starvation” or “die from virus infection”, which one would you choose? But is this really the situation now? I don’t think so, following are my opinions and analysis of the current situation in Malaysia.

Global Economy Falls Into A Severe Recession
The pandemic has pushed the global economy into a severe recession, and the world’s public health system is facing enormous pressures and challenges. The central banks and governments of the world have taken unprecedented measures of monetary and fiscal policies to save the global financial market and the real economy from falling off a cliff. These policies have temporarily stabilized the global financial market; however, the main challenge now has shifted to the supply and demand of the real economy; the degree of panic people have towards fatality of Covid-19. Currently, the supply side of the real economy is mainly supported by essential industries and services which may account for about 50% or less of the economy. The demand side of the real economy has been substantially curtailed due to the lockdowns of countries’ economies, and major layoffs and wage reduction plans implemented by businesses. A deflation occurs when the demand side of the real economy is plummeting faster than the supply side, huge liquidity injected by the central banks and governments through monetary and fiscal policies into the global financial markets and real economy will not cause any inflationary pressure in the short term. However, when the pandemic and the global financial crisis are over, the reverse of monetary and fiscal measures will certainly induce another turbulent in the global financial markets.

In summary, current issues come from two aspects: firstly, people have
different degree of panics towards fatality of Covid-19. Secondly, the supply
and demand of the real economy have been plummeted unprecedently. For the first issue, In the absence of vaccines, governments should use scientific data and analysis about Covid-19 to implement preventive and protective measures, and to educate their people about the scientific facts and fatality of Covid-19. For the second issue, the only way to resolve this issue is to plan for reopening the real economy and encourage the development of e-commerce in private sectors. The following 5 suggestions will be useful to consider when our government is planning and implementing public policies on Covid-19 and reopening Malaysia’s economy: –

  1. Data On The Trajectory, Severity And Mortality Of Covid-19 In Different Zones
    I believe our government and the Ministry of Health have the necessary data on the trajectory, severity and the mortality rate of Covid-19 in different zones. However, the use of graded management approach by dividing the states into red (>40 infections), yellow (1-40 infections) and green (No infections) zones for planning of reopening needs to be improved. Initially the grading was based on the numbers of infection found in a particular zone, but this has been changed to numbers of infection which are still actively treated in a particular zone. The change excludes patients who had been infected but had been discharged from hospital is a better reflection on the severity of Covid-19 infection in a particular zone. However, our government should factor in the relative numbers and densities of the populations in different zones. Compared with rural areas or low-development areas, highly developed and urban areas have a higher number and density of population, therefore, the
    numbers of people getting infected will be higher. It is more appropriate to use the numbers of infection relative to the total population of a particular zone as a percentage to grade the severity of the zone. Furthermore, our government should consider using predictive information to grade a particular zone rather than past information on the numbers of infection. Predictive information like knowing where the high-risk group are which are more vulnerable to Covid-19 (please refer to my Suggestion No. 2 below for further discussion).
  2. Data On High-Risk Clusters In Different Zones
    Based on the statistical analysis of Covid-19 from different countries, the most common finding is – Covid-19 has a high rate of transmission and transmission can happen with patients presented with asymptomatic condition. However, about 98% of the patients infected with Covid-19 are presented with mild conditions in Malaysia, and about 2% of the patients are considered as high-risk clusters include people with age 60 or above, or have dysfunctional immunity, or have underlying medical conditions such as chronic diseases. These high-risks clusters once infected will usually develop into critical medical conditions leading to high mortality rate. Therefore, government should obtain statistics about these high-risk clusters and their whereabout, and take extra protective measures to effectively minimize their risk of infection. Government can work with hospitals and clinics in different zones to collect information about these high-risk clusters or requesting The Department of Statistics to send survey to the general public to collect information about these high-risk clusters. Government can initiate these actions by invoking Section 31 (2) (o) of the Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases Act, 1988 to collect information these high-risk clusters. However, confidentiality measures must be put in place to prevent information from leaking or falling into the hands of criminals. Government can use the information on the numbers of high-risk clusters and their whereabout to grade severity of different zones, and to allocate its limited resources and revenues effectively to assist high-risk clusters to get through the current economic crisis. With additional helps from government, those belong to high-risk clusters may consider start working after the pandemic is alleviating. Our government should also consider numbers of suspected cases of Covid-19 and number of quarantined persons after knowing their close proximity with persons infected with Covid-19 (please refer to my Suggestion No. 3 below for further discussion). In addition, government should also consider degree of protective measures taken by people and businesses in different zones, and their compliance with Movement Control Order (please refer to my Suggestion No. 4 below for further discussion).
  3. Data On Testing And Tracing In Different Zones
    Government has limited test kits and health care resources to test every person from different zones, therefore, these limited resources should be deployed for zones with immediate needs. Zones which are highly developed and worst-hit by Covid-19 should be given priority than other zones. By giving priority testing to people from these zones which contribute most to economy, government can contain the spreads as well as expedite business reopening in these zones to save more businesses from insolvency and employment. Government should cooperate with high-tech enterprises with technologies to implement effective tracing, contacting and quarantining persons suspected to be infected by Covid-19. Government can use information on the numbers of suspected persons and their whereabout to grade severity of different zones.
    However, government must make sure these high-tech enterprises have
    stringent cyber-security and confidentiality measures in place to prevent
    information from leaking or falling into the hands of criminals
  4. Data On Implementation of Protective Measures In Different Zones
    Government should have information about the degree of protective measures implemented and enforced in different zones. This information will help government to plan for reopening of economic activities in any particular zone. Presently, essential industries and services have been allowed to operate in different zones without having to apply for approval from the Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI). However, these industries and services must comply with the SOP (Standard Operating Procedures) stipulated by MITI. The government officers from relevant departments must familiarize themselves with the protective measures described in the SOP before they are ready to perform their duties to inspect compliances in different
    zones. Government should communicate effectively the importance of protective measures to people and enterprises in different zones. Malaysia is a multi-racial country with three major ethnic groups namely Malay, Chinese and Hindu, therefore, it is important all communications about Covid-19 should be in 3 different languages namely Malay, Mandarin and Tamil in addition to English. If any enterprise is found to have in breach of the protective measures of the SOP, inspecting officers should advise the enterprise to remedy the breach before issue summon to suspend its business operating approval. The inspecting officers should also record breaches committed by enterprises in different zones as a feedback to grade severity of different zones.

    Presently, government has deployed military and police forces to check
    compliance of MCO (Movement Control Order) in different zones. As
    compliance of MCO vary from zones to zones, it is important that military and police forces record all violations of MCO in different zones as a feedback to grade severity of different zones. Our government should ensure that locals and foreign workers clearly understand the protective measures such as social distancing, no social or religious gathering, washing hand with soap and disinfectants, and wearing masks and so on are required to protect themselves from Covid-19 infection. Therefore, it is important all communications about Covid-19 protective measures should be in 3 different languages namely Malay, Mandarin and Tamil in addition to English. In addition, government should ensure the locals and foreign workers clearly understand the purpose of MCO and the legal consequences of non-compliance with MCO.

    Other than the above, government may send out messages to people through any social media the importance of maintaining physical health, such as paying attention to their daily diet and nutrition, proper exercise and resting which will help strengthen their immune systems. Furthermore, messages on maintaining a positive and optimistic thinking in response to Covid-19 is also essential; providing some useful information on how to get along with family members while staying at home are all important to avoid family violence. If there is any need for professional counseling for individuals or families, government and any NGOs should be ready to provide for supports.
  5. Data On Income, Asset-Liability Ratio Of Households In Different Zones
    Understanding average income, asset-liability ratio of households in different zones will help government to plan for reopening economic activities in different zones. Zones which are worst-hit by Covid-19 with a higher average household incomes and asset-liability ratio, may plan to reopen their economic activities later. Conversely, zones which are less hit with lower household incomes and asset-liability ratio, may plan to reopen their economic activities earlier to avoid social unrest. Our government should have information of all the average household incomes in Malaysia for purpose of classifying lower income group or B40, middle income group or M40 and upper income group or T20. Since the government and banks have agreed to let individuals and SMEs to postpone their loan repayment for 6 months from April 2020 to September 2020, therefore, even without reliable information on asset-liability ratio of households in different zones, government could still use average household income in different zones to plan for reopening economic activities in different zones.


Most western developed countries did not show enough of crisis leadership

management since the pandemic outbreaks. Their public health care systems and infrastructures are less equipped to response to the outbreaks. Political leaders of the western world should be humble to learn and adapt to the crisis caused by the pandemic. Nevertheless, Malaysia government should immediately set up a Covid-19 Committee to objectively analyze and plan for reopening of the economy and protecting the safety of the public health.

The Covid-19 Committee’s immediate task is to collect and analyze the
following information in order to set up a scientific database for making
decisions on reopening of economy and managing the trajectory Covid-19: –

  1. Predictive information and statistics in different zones as suggested above;
  2. Experience from countries successfully controlling the pandemic;
  3. Creative and practical ideas solicited from Malaysian to fight against the
    pandemic. After all, different social environment, culture and values do affect the implementation of protective and surveillance measures in Malaysia.

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