Across the world, there is a growing pro-vaccination stand as countries and people realise that the only way to beat Covid-19 is to be vaccinated.
AS we approach March 18, the one-year anniversary of Malaysia’s first Covid-19 lockdown, common sense is a commodity that seems in short supply in the country.
The pandemic has turned our world upside down. Lives were lost, businesses ruined and families devastated. And yet, just as there is renewed hope that the worst is over, there are still Malaysians who are opposed to vaccination and in fact refuse to believe that vaccines are the answer to ending this year-long nightmare.
Misinformation is the main reason behind why only about 7% have thus far registered for vaccinations via the MySejahtera app. This slow pace among Malaysians to register their interest in getting vaccinated against Covid-19 is concerning and points to a lack of clarity and awareness as well as scepticism about the vaccines.
But the misinformation by “anti-vaxxers” who say taking the vaccine is a waste of time could soon be drowned out by a slew of legislation and initiatives as part of the government’s efforts to reopen all economic sectors and hasten the end of the pandemic.
Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr Adham Baba has announced that five new provisions under the Emergency (Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases) (Amendment) Ordinance 2021 will come into force on March 11. These include a mandatory order for Covid-19 patients or people who have close contact with positive cases to wear a tracking device.
These new legal provisions are not merely a form of punishment but also a preventive measure against the spread of Covid-19 in the country.
A day before this announcement, Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Abdul Hamid Bador said action can be taken under the Sedition Act 1948 against individuals who spread fake news and instigate people not to take the Covid-19 vaccine.
There is no law against scepticism, and as of now, there isn’t any law to compel you to take the vaccine, but let us hope that these measures or rather the threat of punitive action will see the dialling back of anti-vaccine instigation.
Around the world, there is a growing pro-vaccination stand.
From the United States to Europe to China, countries and people have accepted that the only way to end the pandemic is to be vaccinated.
Some countries have even resorted to new laws to make vaccination compulsory. Our neighbour Indonesia is a case in point.
Elsewhere, Israel, which has administered jabs to more than half its population, has introduced a green pass app that shows whether people have been fully inoculated against the coronavirus or if they have presumed immunity after contracting the disease. Malls and museums have reopened for all, but green pass holders get exclusive access to gyms, hotels, theatres, concerts, and indoor dining in restaurants and bars, albeit with some limits.
And in news that is sure to send reverberations around the Muslim world, Saudi Arabia’s health ministry has ruled that only people who have been vaccinated against Covid-19 will be allowed to perform the Haj this year.
The importance of this new ruling cannot be underestimated as tens of millions of pilgrims will now have to produce vaccination certificates to fulfil conditions to visit Mecca.
Closer to home, Asean economic ministers have proposed a common digital vaccine certificate to speed up the reopening of the hardest-hit sectors such as tourism.
Even though International Trade and Industry Minister Datuk Seri Mohamed Azmin Ali did not specify a timeline for when this can take place, it is a welcomed initiative.
An Asean-wide travel pass or immunisation passport will definitely help facilitate movement among member countries and, more importantly, allow the tourism sector, among the worst hit industries, to bounce back.
I believe Malaysia should take the lead and push for an immunisation passport for Asean. For a start, though, we should join forces with Thailand and Singapore, countries that are heavily reliant on tourism. Both countries have already embarked on a full-scale vaccination programme.
The magic figure of 80% of our population being immunised is frequently brought up when referring to herd immunity. No disrespect to our medical experts, but realistically, we cannot wait for next February for this target to be reached.
If a common digital vaccine certificate can be agreed upon by Malaysia and her neighbours, borders should be open for business and tourism, even if only 50% of the country’s population are vaccinated.
If half the country is immunised and Covid-19 numbers have stabilised to a low point, waiting any longer for our borders to reopen would be counter-productive.
Brian Martin, executive editor of The Star, would like to come clean. He has vested interest in the proposed assessment rate hike since he’s a resident of Kuala Lumpur.