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LETTER | Economic opportunities from Covid-19?

LETTER | Singapore, China, Japan and South Korea have been leading the world in combating and containing the spread of this virus. They have been touted as a role model for western nations who until to date are still struggling to contain the spread in their respective countries.

But events over the past one week, where these countries have previously shown success in managing and containing the virus, shows that despite a steady decline in the infection rate, containing and managing this virus will be a long term game.  

It is clear to date that the virus’ properties are not fully understood and could change. The role of asymptomatic patients is still not understood yet. The true rates of infection and immunity are still uncertain, especially where testing is limited. The only certainty is that forecasts or projections presented can change or vary by the hour or by the day or weeks.

The ability of Covid-19 to mutate and change its method of infecting human appears to imply that it will stay with the human race for good. The possibility of it returning in its existing shape or re-emerge in a different and stronger form is ever-present.

And the virus has shown that despite advances and the focus of the world in developing its economy towards everything mechanised and automated, it is simple products like the face masks and the protective clothing - which in normal times are shunned by economies as limited growth, minimal margin and unattractive industry - that are enjoying a surge in their demand that is unheard of. The world was totally caught by surprise with the limited supply as there are not many such manufacturers around.

I suggest the government give more emphasis and focus on investments on incremental innovation within the confines of existing solutions, eg ancillary products/services/equipment moving forward in its planning for the future of the country. 

If Malaysia can become the top producer in the world in the manufacturing of examination and surgical gloves, we can similarly play a significant role in medical supplies manufacturing such as face masks, protective clothing and even products like IV fluids, IV pumps, IV catheters, ventilators, and respiratory disposables. 

The world is likely to be looking at a truly global supply chain without too dependent on a few markets for items like diagnostic kits, medical supplies, and equipment to treat patients in the event there is another disruption.

For years, telemedicine has lingered on the sidelines as a cost-controlling, high convenience system in our country. Do we anticipate a shift in the paradigm of where our healthcare delivery will shift to remote office visits? 

This has a containment related benefits as it adheres to the concept of social distancing being the norm and reduce the stress on the existing hospital systems to only patients who need critical care. 

Yes, not everything can become virtual. But in reality uptake on genuinely useful tools in our country has been slowed by powerful legacy players often working in collaboration with over-cautious civil servants. Yes, focus on investments into telemedicine is long overdue.

Covid-19 highlighted the fact that we lack sufficient key workers to respond when things go bad. Many of these jobs were treated as non-essential and people who enjoyed these jobs were forced to abandon pursuing it, don’t pay them enough to live and buy the basic goods of life in normal times.

I hope in the government’s stimulus package announced on March 27, where it said it is channelling RM1 billion for equipment purchases and healthcare services on top of the RM500 million announced earlier to help the health ministry’s efforts to combat the spread of the virus and ensure treatment during the pandemic, a substantial portion of that would be towards the maintenance and sustenance of a ready pool of key workers in our public healthcare system.

As the explosive growth in the demand for face masks and protective clothing has shown, the future of the growth in the healthcare does not necessary have to be in the technological or high tech sector. 

In times of this crisis, the severest the world has seen to date, it is the simplest of devices that are saving humankind and not those high tech high margin products.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

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