THE state of emergency announced by Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin this week is not unique to Malaysia as several other countries have declared similar measures since last year to curb the pandemic.
One example is Italy, where this week, the government extended its “Covid-19 state of emergency” until the end of April.
Italy’s state of emergency was first introduced in January 2020 to curb the spread of coronavirus as numbers soared.
It gives power to the central government for officials to bypass the bureaucracy for much of the decision-making related to containing the pandemic.
According to the Swiss-based Centre for Civil and Political Rights, about 79 countries have introduced varying degrees of emergency status since last year. They include Australia, France, Finland, Indonesia, the Philippines and Thailand.
In Malaysia, the state of emergency was announced in conjunction with the second movement control order.
Apart from fighting a pandemic, there was a brewing political unease with which unless nipped, may have negatively impacted the country in its fight against the third and more sever wave of the Covid-19 outbreak with daily infections topping 3,000.
“While it averted destabilising political wrangling and holding an early election in the midst of a pandemic, the emergency rule has focused investors’ concerns over the country’s continuing political uncertainty, ” Sunway University economics professor Prof Yeah Kim Leng (pic below) tells StarBizWeek.The decision to invoke states of emergencies shows the difficult choices many world leaders have been facing for almost a year into the pandemic.
As the crisis enters a more critical phase globally, governments are under pressure to bring down infection numbers while also looking to boost economic activity.
Bank Islam Malaysia Bhd chief economist Mohd Afzanizam Abdul Rashid says that the call for a state of emergency gives focus so that the necessary energy and resources can be directed towards efforts to curb the virus through the rollout of vaccination programmes.
“Businesses and households would have more clarity and certainty on how the government would deploy their resources to stabilise the economy.
“To a large degree, the constitutional monarch can be deemed as a stabiliser at a time when there is excessive political uncertainty, ” he says.
In Italy, the move to extend the country’s state of emergency came at a time of a political crisis amidst the pandemic.
The ruling coalition led by Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte is battling to keep the government afloat after two of his ministers resigned.
Aside from Italy, another country that announced a state of emergency is Japan.
Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga declared a state of emergency in Tokyo and surrounding areas as Covid-19 infections and the number of deaths reached record levels.
The measure though was only for one month. For Japan, the emergency hands the power to the local government to urge people to stay at home after 8pm and limit business operations.
The effect is to increase powers of the prefectural governors to “urge” local people to avoid unnecessary gathering. Residents though have the right to ignore such requests and no penalties are involved.
Malaysia’s neighbouring countries Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines have announced a state of emergency since last year.
Thailand, which had earlier been successful in containing the Covid-19 outbreak, is facing a new wave of infections.
The country’s state of emergency in relation to the Covid-19 outbreak was first declared last March. It was recently extended until the end of this month as the country faces a surge in coronavirus cases.
Last September, President Rodrigo Duterte (pic below) extended the Philippines’ state of emergency for another year in the name of addressing the Covid-19 crisis.
Duterte first placed the country under a state of emergency last March when the number of confirmed infections was approaching 200 people with about a dozen deaths.
Malaysia’s state of emergency will last until August this year.
Sunway University’s Yeah says many quarters have questioned the need for the emergency rule that was only applied in the past when the nation’s law and order was under threat.
But he adds, “Its current usage will enable the government to mobilise all its resources including the army to suppress the pandemic. It also averts a change in government and an early election in the middle of a pandemic, ” he says.
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