AS MALAYSIA begins to recover from the effects of the movement control order (MCO) and re-establish its economy, it is only natural that we begin to look to the future and wonder to what extent life post-MCO will differ.
There is much talk of a new norm, especially after so many families have been confined to their homes for so long.
It is still not yet clear whether a vaccine can be made available globally or if we will need to adapt to a new life living with Covid-19 in the longer term.
As we reflect on the past few months and look to the future, there are a number of themes that emerge that apply not only in Malaysia but globally too.
With data available on the number and location of cases, we are now better able to understand where and how outbreaks have occurred.
This information will be crucial in informing any nationally coordinated future action in order to be able to prevent a second wave, perceived by some to signal potentially catastrophic effects for the economy should a second lockdown or MCO be required.
And while many families have coped admirably with home working and domestic schooling, it is known that others have struggled, and that there are as yet unforeseen implications for health and well-being.
Furthermore, as we move forward and begin to rebuild the economy, the limited resources available must be spent wisely to ensure Malaysia gets the best benefits from these finite resources.
For the benefit of society
One aspect that should not be forgotten in our recovery is the role that research can play in establishing new knowledge at a time when it is needed so critically.
When faced with new challenges, it is clear that there is an imperative to establish knowledge that allows us to not only combat the virus but to also sustain essential services and the economy.
From the perspective of higher education institutions, one core activity, alongside that of education, is to generate new knowledge established through research for the benefit of society.
Heriot-Watt University has a long history of doing just this – delivering pioneering research that has global impact.
Over recent years, this activity has grown across Heriot-Watt’s international campuses, with research undertaken from its location in Putrajaya having grown exponentially following its success in securing funding, largely from the Higher Education Ministry.
Not only does this help benefit society locally, it has also allowed the university to respond to the Covid-19 crisis. In particular, the university managed to secure funding that has allowed it to focus on four key areas of work – epidemic modelling, psychological well-being, recovery of the construction sector and recovery of the agro-industry sector.
Four key areas
In terms of epidemic modelling, the Heriot-Watt staff is working together with colleagues from the Institute of Medical Research in Malaysia on epidemic models to help formulate optimal “MCO-exit” strategies.
This is done by dynamically tracking changes in the Covid-19 reproduction number, R0. Control measures triggered when the R0 number crosses pre-defined thresholds can then be used to help contain any second wave of the virus.
Turning to psychological well-being, Heriot-Watt secured further funding to help develop a recovery framework for those who are most vulnerable – in particular the elderly, women’s groups and those who have been retrenched or self-employed individuals who have lost their source of income.
Looking across a slightly longer timescale, Heriot-Watt is also engaged in two projects targeting the stabilisation and rebuilding of the Malaysian economy. One focuses on assessing the vulnerability of SMEs in the construction industry and the other on recovery strategies for the agro-industry sector in Malaysia, with both projects aiming to provide direct advice on the optimal utilisation of the Government’s Economic Stimulus Packages (ESPs).
Much has been written lately about the impact of Covid-19 on higher education and the impact on students both at home in Malaysia and worldwide.
Heriot-Watt University responded to the situation by introducing an innovative “responsive blended learning” for all of its taught students as well as by supporting society and the re-establishment of the economy by targeting its research activities and outputs in a way that is most meaningful and beneficial for the nation.
Prof Lynne B. Jack is director of research at Heriot-Watt University, Malaysia.
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