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2021-06-17 15:09:00 2496379

Success of national recovery plan lies with herd immunity

Opinion

Sin Chew Daily

On Tuesday, prime minster Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin unveiled the four-phase national recovery plan with the hope the normal lives of Malaysians can be restored by the end of the year.

There are three indicators for the national recovery plan: number of daily new coronavirus cases, burden on the country's healthcare system, and the rate of immunization.

Based on that, now is the transitional period between the first and second phases, and the country is expected to move into the third phase around September or October and hopefully the fourth phase will be implemented before December, so that all economic sectors will be opened and people can start to live their usual lives again.

Simply put, the success or failure of our national recovery plan will be determined by the virus and the intensity of the pandemic.

Imagine it will take five or six months for us to revert to our normal lives, if everything goes smoothly, but before that, many local businesses will remain shut and most of the economic sectors will only operate at most at 80% capacity.

To allow the virus and pandemic to determine the level of economic openness means there are full of uncertainties. Many important industries will be killed if we fail to reopen as planned, including aviation, hospitality, F&B and transportation services. In view of that, the economic growth projection for this year is expected to be revised downward.

One thing we cannot afford to overlook is the uncertainties that come with the mutant variants of the virus. In UK, the number of new cases has spiked again after reaching a low of just over a thousand cases a day, forcing the country to put an emergency brake on its planned reopening.

UK is now very near to the goal of herd immunity with 105.6 vaccine doses administered fro every one hundred people. But unfortunately, this is now defeated by the Delta variant first discovered in India. Around 90% of the country's new COVID-19 cases could be attributed to this Delta variant. Although it is said that two doses of Pfizer or AZ will effectively resist the variant, more lethal new variants may emerge between now and end of the year.

We are now racing with the virus. We must reach the herd immunity goal well before the new variants invade.

While the virus factor is beyond our control, the vaccination rate is well within our control. We can achieve our goal so long as Malaysians are willing to go for vaccination. The prime minister says we will receive a new supply of 16 million doses in July and hopefully we can have 60% of our population inoculated by October or November.

The number of doses administered each day should reach around 300,000. It will take about 158 days to administer some 47.6 million doses to reach the target of 80% immunization rate some time on November 20.

Of the three criteria set by the prime minister, only vaccination rate is the most critical. If we reach the goal earlier, naturally we will have also overcome the issues of daily new infection numbers and the burden on the country's healthcare system.

Although the objectives of the four-phase national recovery plan are to contain the spread of the virus and to salvage the national economy, the outlook will be bearish if we drag until the end of the year before we fully reopen the economy.

IMF, the World Bank and MIER have earlier projected Malaysia's economy to grow between 5.2% and 6.7% this year, but according to the prime minister, the country is expected to suffer economic losses to the tune of RM30 billion a month due to the full nationwide lockdown enforced in June. If over the next half a year we impose various degrees of control on economic activities, we may easily lose a total of RM60 billion which is equivalent to about 4.5% of our GDP last year. If we are unable to lift all the bans earlier, we may have to revise downward our growth forecast from 6.7% to only 2.5% this year!

To minimize the damage, the only solution is to achieve the target of 80% immunization rate as soon as possible in order to effectively contain the spread of the virus before we fully reopen our economy.

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