Chandra: NRC vital to fight pandemic

PETALING JAYA: The National Recovery Council (NRC) is shaping up to be a vital mechanism in the country’s war against the Covid-19 pandemic, says political scientist Dr Chandra Muzaffar (pic).

Noting the unprecedented whole-of-nation approach undertaken by the NRC, he said the contribution of public figures in the government’s efforts to fight Covid-19 was vital and it might just be the solution needed to bring down the number of cases.

“The NRC consists of public figures aside from government heads and that means their contributions are important.

“Propose ways to improve this programme in order to help us achieve our target and it might reduce the rate of infection, which I agree has been very high,” he said in a group interview on Sunday.

The whole-of-nation approach is one where representatives from the private sector, industry experts and NGOs, aside from government officials, share their experience and advice on various aspects of the National Recovery Plan (NRP).

Chandra also noted the challenges that the government was facing, given the presence of the highly infectious Delta variant.

He said it would not be surprising if Covid-19 figures were to continue rising in the coming days, but stresses that there must be changes in the way the pandemic was being publicly perceived.

“We can manage the pandemic through vaccinations and screening processes.

“I’m worried about the figures, but let’s not look at the figures solely. There are other measurements.

“For example, the vaccination and hospitalisation rates. It is important to see whether the public healthcare system can bear this burden.”

At the same time, Chandra said the government must communicate its efforts on the pandemic effectively to the public, as it was previously criticised over a perceived “slow action” in rolling out vaccines.

The initial delays in the national vaccination programme, he explained, were due to a lack of vaccine stock caused by rich countries hoarding vaccines.

This is an argument that has been consistently reiterated by Science, Technology and Innovation Minister Khairy Jamaluddin.

“Because no explanation was given in the beginning, people even thought the government was hoarding vaccines.

“But the issue here is that we have fallen victim to an unjust vaccine distribution and supply situation.”

On another note, Chandra said the NRC was on the right track as its decisions would be based on science.

“We know science has its roots in our philosophy. We accept science because of proof and evidence.

“Malaysia is among the countries that included the principles of science in its national philosophy and Rukun Negara.

“It is clear that our concept is based on a progressive and modern society,” he added.

Chandra also said it was important for the vaccination programme to be expedited so Malaysia could return to normal life as soon as possible, given the pandemic fatigue felt by many.

“Human beings need interaction in a society. That is part of nature and that is what separates us as humans from other creations.

“That is why I think we must return to normal as soon as possible.

“If we have already achieved a certain vaccination rate, that can be done. When lockdowns are lifted after Covid-19 figures have decreased, then public confidence towards the government will follow suit,” he said.

At the same time, he is concerned about the state of the economy and believes cash handouts are no longer the way to go.

“Instead of depending on financial aid packages, the government has to let the economy stand on its own.

“We have to let economic activities generate their own strength. The people and industries must start moving,” he said.

Chandra proposed that the government identify the sectors with low Covid-19 cases and allow them to continue operations, subject to strict SOP by the Health Ministry and National Security Council.

“Even after we are vaccinated and we return to our normal activities, we must still wear masks and observe physical distancing. It must go on for some time to come,” he said.

On July 17, Finance Minister Tengku Datuk Seri Zafrul Tengku Abdul Aziz, who is NRP coordinating minister, announced the formation of the NRC chaired by Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin.

The NRC will replace the Special Cabinet Committee on the National Recovery Plan.

Among the experts in the NRC are Star Media Group adviser Datuk Seri Wong Chun Wai, SME Association of Malaysia president Datuk Michael Kang, former Education director-general Datuk Dr Habibah Abdul Rahim, Yayasan Chow Kit co-founder and child rights activist Datuk Dr Hartini Zainuddin as well as Dr Sivakumar Thurairajasingam from the Jeffrey Cheah School of Medicine & Health Sciences.

Besides experts and industry captains, representatives from Opposition parties as well as the Sabah and Sarawak state governments have also been invited to join the NRC.

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