Pandemic playbook needed for the future

During this pandemic, the most vulnerable have been the hardest hit. We must work together and take an integrated approach to health, hunger, climate, and equity crisis — no one is safe from Covid-19 until everyone is safe.

— Volkan Bozkır, United Nations General Assembly president

As we begin to see the light at the end of the tunnel after fighting the Covid-19 pandemic for more than a year, it is crucial that we a plan for the future.

Simply put, we did not prepare for the current pandemic. As the Wuhan coronavirus — as it was known at the time before the term Covid-19 was coined — began to land on our shores, its disparaging impact was nothing like we have ever seen.

The tumultuous period that followed saw the nation going into lockdown during the first movement control order (MCO), exiting it and entering it again.

Its impact has been felt in almost every aspect of our lives, be it the economy it managed to cripple during the period of business inactivity or the livelihood due to jobs being lost as more companies are cutting their losses as well as the new normal which we are forced to live in.

Other, more developed countries, as we have seen have fared better or at least recovered faster compared to us being in a Third World country.

In the future, we must have global vaccine equity to ensure a timely and balanced recovery for all. Currently, we have seen a situation where a two-track pandemic is developing, with richer countries having access and poorer ones being left behind.

Science, Technology and Innovation Minister Khairy Jamaluddin on Wednesday has called out the World Bank, urging the global institution to be a strong voice for developing countries for global vaccine equity.

Describing industrialised nations as “falling short of respectable and responsible global leadership”, he said vaccine hoarding by these countries is immoral.

“We set up Covax in a global solidarity as a mechanism of vaccine equity and that has been an abysmal failure and I think the World Bank owes it to the developing countries to be a strong voice on vaccine equity in the global stage,” the minister said.

Also echoing Khairy’s sentiments were Deputy Chief Minister Tan Sri Datuk Amar Dr James Jemut Masing who viewed vaccine hoarding as “bullying”, pointing out that Covid-19 originated from China and not some small, poor nation.

“Therefore, China and other developed nations must be willing to share their expertise and resources to assist the under-developed countries to fight Covid-19,” Masing said.

In a commentary published on the World Health Organisation (WHO) website on May 31, it described that “access to vaccination is key” to secure a global recovery.

“Inequitable vaccine distribution is not only leaving untold millions of people vulnerable to the virus. It is also allowing deadly variants to emerge and ricochet back across the world.

“It need not be this way. That is why we are calling today for a new level of international support for — and implementation of — a stepped up coordinated strategy, backed by new financing, to vaccinate the world,” the commentary read.

As for Sarawak, being situated on Borneo Island and separated from West Malaysia meant that it is possible that it is able to contain the Covid-19 and future pandemics quicker than the rest of the nation.

In an interview with New Sarawak Tribune in March last year, one-time Institute for Medical Research (IMR) director Tan Sri Dr Mani Jegathesan said in Sarawak’s case, being isolated in the island of Borneo could be a blessing as naturally there would be much less human interaction.

“With much less movement, it is easier to conduct a lockdown, but when you are a cosmopolitan society, with a lot of interaction, internationals, nationals, it gets harder,” he said.
If there is one takeaway from this pandemic, it is that we should not trivialise the importance of health and medical research infrastructure.

The state acknowledges this through its plan to build a centre of infectious diseases in Kota Samarahan to prepare for future pandemic as well as possibly work on creating the necessary vaccines.

This should be the way of the future. Look at it this way, the health infrastructure nationwide has improved by leaps and bounds compared to pre-Covid-19.

Even the remote areas are equipped with state of the art laboratories to test PCR swab samples. The emphasis has to continue, so is the necessary funding.

We should not undo the work that the nation has done in terms of crisis preparedness and response. We need to prepare a pandemic playbook for future diseases to come.

We can’t be caught up like how it was during the spread of Covid-19.