How digital helps with the new norm

Dr Zaidi (right) at the conclusion of his radio interview with Azam Sarawak communication officer Hakim Junaidi.

In addition to unveiling Sarawak Economic Action Council (SEAC) to facilitate the state government’s post-Covid-19 exit economic strategy up to 2030, Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Tun Openg launched on June 9 a webinar series called ‘Sarawak Productive’ to boost the participation of businesses and start-ups in e-commerce which, pre-Covid-19, was targeted to make up 17.4 percent contribution to the state’s gross domestic product (GDP) by 2025.

Throughout the movement control order (MCO), we have seen digital communications and technology being applied to various aspects of people’s lives — monitoring and controlling the spread of Covid-19; battling fake news; creating reliable portals for users isolated at home; online communications like Zoom to manage and coordinate our group efforts from the government level to corporate level; continuing the process of education; and finally, to keep in touch with loved ones.

The fight to retain normalcy and ensure economic resilience began as far back as before the MCO last March. According to Sarawak Multimedia Authority (SMA) general manager Dr Zaidi Razak, as soon as the seriousness of Covid-19 in China began to materialise, SMA began making preparations.

Briefing a Civil Defence Force member on the use of the eHDF app.

“When Covid-19 struck in China, we already started examining the steps taken by other countries that have similar characteristics as ours like Korea and Hong Kong. After doing our research, we waited for our cue from the state government,” Zaidi said during a live interview on Radio Televisyen Malaysia (RTM) Sarawak FM’s ‘Selamat Pagi Sarawak’ programme.

The start of the MCO and the spread of Covid-19 throughout Malaysia stemming from the Sri Petaling Tabligh cluster in early March triggered the need for effective, targeted intervention measures to flatten the curve. Zaidi related how at the start of the MCO, registration was done by hand, introducing human errors in the form of illegible handwriting and thus, thwarting efforts to effectively monitor the movement of the public.

“We created a digital registry; made a digital form to ensure that everybody could read the answers filled out digitally, and when we received our instruction from the state government, the chief minister and State Disaster Management Committee (SDMC), we activated two of our developers to create a system and analyse the applications,” Zaidi said of the apps and digital services that came afterwards such as SMA’s QR Code wristbands, COVIDTrace and EHealth Declaration Form (eHDF).

After testing and launching of the apps, a new set of SOPs, including the apps and systems usage, were introduced a week later.

Students at Miri airport filling out eHDF forms at the clearance area.

Keeping in form with the Sarawak government’s digital economy vision through SMA, the apps and systems were developed by local talents.

“That is the direction we are heading. SMA engages and cultivates local talents to programme and create the systems,” said Zaidi.

In addition, the spike in cases from the Sri Petaling Tabligh cluster, which spawned 17 other clusters and more than 3,000 cases, the Sarawak government was faced with a conundrum on how to monitor the movement of travellers.

“At first, we did heatmaps to examine the spread of the pandemic. At that time, there was no MySejahtera. We started with the eHDF, and various others came up with digital contact tracing apps such as QMunity, which we encouraged, because it’s not just a government effort. It’s a community effort. Even those who have to be quarantined at home have a responsibility to the public to stay put,” Zaidi said, adding that the cost of violating home quarantines, included fines and jail time, are much more costly than not wearing masks.

“When everybody has registered and have QR codes, we can monitor movements and use our database to more effectively follow patients-under-investigation (PUI) and persons-under-surveillance (PUS). It allows the relevant authorities to contact people and check whether they have Covid-19 symptoms,” Zaidi said.

Using the EnterSarawak app at an immigration counter.

When the digital economy agenda was first announced in 2017, it was met with doubts and apprehension, but now, the results are revealing themselves.

“The chief minister said that we can’t wait for other people. We carve our own digital economy (DE) path, approving ordinances and so on. A lot of investment and awareness campaigns have been done since 2017, and we will just keep working to realise the agenda. People are now seeing how the initiatives are unfolding.”

Going further into the new normal, SMA’s focus will be on enabling the community’s transition to digital in their daily lives.

About Azam Sarawak

Angkatan Zaman Mansang (Azam), which means ‘Movement for Progress’, is a non-profit and non-governmental organisation which seeks to facilitate development efforts in Sarawak through promoting development communication.