The government should announce the detailed plans for mitigating measures for the next three weeks

The Prime Minister, Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, announced yesterday that the Movement Control Order (MCO) would be extended from the 31st of March, 2020 to the 14th of April, 2020. In order to reassure the public that the government is able to effectively plan and prepare for the MCO extension and for the eventual lifting of the MCO, the following issues must be addressed.

1) Firstly, announce the detailed plans for mitigating measures for the next three weeks until the 14th of April, 2020

While the extension of the MCO may be necessary to limit the spread of the COVID-19 virus, the public is still unclear as to the detailed steps to be undertaken during the MCO in order to limit this spread. Many carriers of the COVID-19 virus are asymptotic carriers which means that they do not show any signs of having the virus such as coughing or shortness of breath. Is the government making preparations for more widespread mass testing similar to what the South Korean government did? What measures are being undertaken to procure additional testing kits whether from domestic or foreign sources?

We also need to have reassurance that the frontline workers especially in the healthcare facilities are taken care of. The additional RM500 million of allocation to the Ministry of Health announced by the Prime Minister as part of the National Economic Council initiative on the 23rd of March, 2020, is a good start as was the announcement of an additional RM100 million for the hiring of contract healthcare workers especially nurses. This has to be followed up with announcements by the Health Ministry and other related Ministries on where additional Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), ventilators and other necessary material will be procured from. We already have seen video clips being shared on social media on how hospital staff are using improvised material such as plastic bags to produce makeshift PPE devices. These shortages have to be addressed with detailed plans.

2) Secondly, ensure that the entire supply chain for the production and distribution of essential items remains intact

All manufacturers which are producing essential items such as food and medical supplies need to obtain permission from the Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI) to continue their operations.[1] Since the start of the MCO, MITI has been inundated with applications to continue operations from many manufacturing companies who are part of the supply chain of essential products. I thank the hardworking MITI officers who have been working nonstop to process these applications which number in the thousands if not tens of thousands. The deadline for these applications closed at midnight on the 24th of March, 2020.[2]

What was unclear during the past week was whether or not manufacturers which produce materials which support the essential items such as packaging material for bread, milk and eggs would be allowed to continue their operations. In addition, many distributors of these products which were imported from overseas also didn’t know where to get permission from in order to continue the distribution of these products using current and incoming stocks. Whether or not this confusion leads to potential disruption of supplies of essential food and medical supplies in the coming weeks remains to be seen.

While it is good that a special committee comprising the Ministers of MITI, KPDNHEP and Agriculture has been formed to ensure the continued production and supply of these essential items, the public needs greater assurance on this matter.

These are some of the comments posted by manufacturers in response to a recent MITI facebook post[3](Published on Facebook at approximately 11am, 26th of March, 2020): (The names of the companies have been omitted)

“Please check for my company … submitted our application last week Thursday and your officer confirmed that our company application is approved. However we are still waiting for the official letter and Its been a week and we still have not got any email from miti. For your information there are urgent orders to be supplied to government agencies and without the miti approval we are unable to operate. Your cooperation is highly appreciated. Thank you.”

(This is from a company which produces cleaning and sanitation solutions)

“Tuan/Puan, we are the manufacturer of packaging bag supply to manufactures of Bread, vegetables & others consumable product. Most of my customers from bakery & vegetables & household (sanitizer) received the approval from MITI , kindly look into our application dated 24 Mar 2020. thank you.”

“Dear MITI, I have submitted my application through online portal last Saturday ( 21/3/20) but yet to get any approval. My factory is dealing with food manufacturing ( dry instant noodle) and i am really appreciate with your cooperation on my approval. Please help me on this matter. Thank you very much.”

Given these potential bottlenecks, we need greater assurance that the supply chain for these essential items are not disrupted. For example, it would be helpful for the Ministries involved to publish the number of companies in each of the sectors (manufacturing, distribution and agriculture) which have applied for and have been allowed to continue their operations during the MCO.

3) Thirdly, the government needs to announce post MCO safety measures to limit the spread of the COVID19 virus

The extension of the MCO to the 14th of April, 2020 has additional time to the government to manage this crisis. This time should also be spent on planning for the additional safety measures which must be put in place after the end of the MCO. For example, temperature testing must be done at places like shopping malls, supermarkets and places of worship. New sanitization guidelines must be drawn up for public places. New guidelines have to be drawn for public events involving large crowds. Ideally, every single Ministry should come up with new guidelines and standard operating procedures (SOPs) to limit the spread of the COVID 19 virus in areas under their jurisdiction. A central coordinating agency such as the National Security Council (Majlis Keselamatan Negara) can oversee these new initiatives and guidelines.

With these new safety measures, it can potentially shorten the time of the current MCO or prevent another extension, since these measures would increase public confidence (and hopefully, the government’s confidence) that the number of new cases will not spiral out of control once the current MCO ends.

The South Korean Foreign Minister, Kang Kyung-What, gained worldwide praise for her measured interview with the BBC where she cited the importance of “openness, transparency and fully keeping the public informed” as the approach undertaken by her government to combat the COVID 19 virus.[4] We call on the Malaysian government to practice a similar approach so that the public confidence in what the government is doing to combat the COVID19 virus can be maintained.

MP for Bangi
Media statement by Dr. Ong Kian Ming in Kuala Lumpur on Thursday, 26th March 2020