PUTRAJAYA: Taking the middle ground between becoming authoritarian and lenient was key in the country’s success in wading out of the Covid-19 pandemic, says Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin.
He said the ministry – under the stewardship of director-general Tan Sri Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah – had performed admirably in facing one of the most devastating pandemics in the history of mankind.
“As minister, I am very proud of all the ministry’s personnel. Every single one of them – at the hospitals, Covid-19 Assessment Centres (CAC), quarantine centres and the thousands of those behind the scenes – have worked so hard to drive us out of the pandemic.
“The ministry has performed admirably and everyone has gone above and beyond, risking their lives, to manage this pandemic,” he said at a media interview on his achievements since taking over the ministry’s helm.
Khairy took over the reins of the ministry in September last year when Malaysia was right in the thick of the Covid-19 Delta wave, thus putting him in a position to take on one of the most challenging tasks in the country.
In managing the pandemic, Khairy said it was important not to be too punitive when implementing preventive measures, as it could backfire and cause the rakyat to rebel.
“There are times we need to be strict, so we used Act 342 to impose rules and laws. This was especially the case when we still had not vaccinated most of the people and still imposed the movement control order,” he said, referring to the Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases Act.
“But at the same time, we understand that taking only punitive actions will anger the people.
“This will cause the people to be disobedient, as no one likes to be policed around.
“This is why in April we stopped enforcing Act 342 in terms of fines. We no longer issued compounds to people for not putting on face masks.
“After two years of facing the pandemic, if we still feel that the people are not able to live with the virus, it means that we do not trust them.
“So a balanced approach was important, where there was a need for enforcement and also a need to trust the rakyat to make the best decisions for themselves,” he said.
Starting in April this year, Malaysia entered the transition to the endemicity phase and has thus far removed most Covid-19 restrictions such as cross-border travel and quarantine requirements.
Businesses have resumed while the wearing of masks is now optional in most settings.
Khairy said the declaration of whether Covid-19 is endemic can only be made by the World Health Organisation after taking into consideration all aspects.
With the current Parliament term approaching its end, Khairy said among the things he wished he had extra time to do was to upgrade dilapidated health facilities and address human resources issues.
Khairy said his visits to health facilities in rural Sarawak, Sabah and Kedah revealed how a lot of the ministry’s infrastructure is in dire need of attention.
“If I had additional time, I would like to focus on upgrading these facilities.
“The pandemic has taught us the importance of having ample healthcare services. Now that the pandemic has subsided, we must not put these lessons to waste.”
Khairy said currently, there are 2,732 clinics that are in neglected and run-down conditions, yet these facilities are still in operation in order to cater to the healthcare needs of the people.
“Some of the conditions are not only not conducive to working, but they are hazardous for both patients and healthcare workers.”
Asked if there was something he felt he could have done better in handling Covid-19, Khairy said:
“Maybe I have not had a chance to step back and process all that has happened in the past two years. We are still addressing the pandemic on a daily basis, even though we are in a much better situation now.
“This retrospective question... is something for later, I suppose.”