Don’t let bureaucracy obstruct international help in combating Covid-19, says Hisham

Foreign minister urges Putrajaya to learn from its mistakes in handling pandemic.

Foreign Minister Hishammuddin Hussein has called on Putrajaya to learn from its mistakes in the battle against Covid-19, adding that it should ensure that Malaysian bureaucracy does not become a barrier in accepting much-needed international assistance and cooperation.

Noting that Malaysians are becoming restless as pandemic fatigue sets in, he expressed concerns that the country may have lost the delicate balance between prioritising public health and our economic interests.

“Today, 450 days on – we must look back and reflect. The unknown is no longer as mysterious as it was last year. Our focus then was to strike the right balance between lives and livelihoods, which has always been central to our efforts.

“However, as time went on, we may have lost that delicate balance.

“From my observations as foreign minister and interactions with my counterparts, especially on sharing our respective experiences and best practices, I would like to sincerely make three simple suggestions on what we should focus on to bring us out of this ‘pandemic paradox’,” he said on his blog today (June 13).

Firstly, he said, a common ground is needed in addressing the latest movement control order (MCO).

“We must remain consistent on our existing standard operating procedures (SOPs). Unnecessary and reactive changes will put everything we have achieved thus far at risk,” he added.

He also urged the government to consider expediting its approval for Covid-19 vaccines to prevent rollout delays.

“Malaysians were initially confident in the government’s proactive approach to set plans for phased vaccinations, and were hopeful at reports of our early success in securing supplies.

“But we must also understand why Malaysians are asking for a faster rollout – considering the recent rise in cases, fear has begun to set in, triggering frustration and agitation,” he said.

Citing the UK and the US, Hishammuddin said the world has seen this fear eventually fade as vaccinations are ramped up and it has been replaced with optimism.

The Sembrong MP called on the government to consider expanding its vaccine arsenal to allay concerns.

Thus far, he said Malaysia has only approved Pfizer, Sinovac and AstraZeneca for use and pointed out that the World Health Organisation has listed Johnson & Johnson, Moderna and Sinopharm for worldwide emergency use.

“I understand the relevant authorities’ need to undergo the necessary due diligence, but we cannot follow normal procedures under abnormal circumstances. Our agencies must be in line with other international bodies in issuing emergency approvals quickly,” he added.

Hishammuddin said many countries have also offered to help but this is where bureaucracy remains a key barrier to implementation.

“Offers of assistance must be met with a sense of eagerness, not reluctance.

“Should these offers not be met with enthusiasm and positivity – therein lies the risk of jeopardising our diplomatic relations or worse, our nation’s integrity on the global stage. I feel this is not a risk worth taking,” he opined.

As of June 11, a total of 1.3million Malaysians have been fully vaccinated with another 1.63million having had their first dose.

The Umno politician also urged for greater mass testing as this enables the authorities to better manage outbreaks.

“But to achieve this we need a plan, to either increase our lab capacities, procure more test kits, or subsidise testing for the masses.

“Moving forward, I believe the combination of these suggestions could serve as a transformed Covid-19 management strategy for us. An integrated approach to public health – one which combines a strict lockdown, with a focus on vaccination and testing,” he said, adding that this requires a whole of government approach and flexibility.

For the country to strive for the better, Hishammuddin said it must recognise mistakes and not repeat them, otherwise, it would be hard for Malaysia to face more challenges in the post-pandemic era such as new Covid-19 variants and issues involving education, mental health, and the economy.

“We may not have seen the worst of it yet, but we must remain vigilant in our efforts – determined to do everything in our power to work with each other to overcome this deadly virus,” he added.

MALAYSIAKINI

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