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A vaccine-fuelled economy

21/02/2021 01:23 PM

By M. Saraswathi

KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 21 -- I can’t remember when was the last time, I looked forward to watching something live, and as Malaysia Airlines flight MH604, an Airbus 330-300 aircraft carrying the first batch of vaccines for COVID-19 touched down, there was a sense of relief and hope.

Today will go down in the country’s history on how the nation celebrated the arrival of the vaccine, having had its economy almost shattered and thousands of lives and livelihoods of people robbed.

Hence, the hype and around the clock planning for its arrival was without a doubt -- befitting.

The jetliner was carrying 312,390 doses of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for Malaysia under the National COVID-19 Immunisation Programme in phases starting Feb 26, 2021.

The vaccine would help Malaysia to radically reduce the infection rate and the pressure on the healthcare system, which is currently overwhelmed with 34,468 active cases as of 12 noon on Feb 20, 2021.

The government aims to immunise 70 per cent of the population by the first quarter of 2022. Foreigners living in Malaysia will also receive the COVID-19 vaccine for free.

"This is the preventive part where you vaccinate people and as more people receive the vaccine, the less likely they are to get the disease, therefore achieving herd immunity," Dr Kalaiarasu Peariasamy, Director of the Institute for Clinical Research at National Institutes for Health, had said.

Once that is taken care of.

Then the need for lockdowns and movement controls would be less likely, which would enable the economy to go back to its full operation and eventually make a steady recovery. 

In its latest update, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) kept its 7.0 per cent growth outlook for Malaysia this year, followed by Cambodia 6.8 per cent, Vietnam 6.7 per cent, the Philippines 6.6 per cent, and Myanmar 5.7 per cent.

The government is projecting a growth rate of 6.5 to 7.5 per cent this year, while Bank Negara Malaysia is expected to announce its forecast in March, when it releases its Economic & Monetary Review 2020.

Malaysia’s economy shrank 3.4 per cent in the fourth quarter 2020 with the COVID-19 resurgence, bringing the full-year contraction to 5.6 per cent.

The global economy is projected to grow 5.5 per cent in 2021, revised up by 0.3 percentage point relative to the previous forecast, reflecting expectations of a vaccine-powered strengthening of activity and additional policy support in few large economies.

The IMF, however, said although recent vaccine approvals have raised hopes of a pandemic turnaround later this year, renewed waves and new variants of the virus post concerns of the outlook.

The cautiousness is something the government is also aware of as the Health Director-General Tan Sri Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah had said that vaccines are the short-term solution to preventing COVID-19. 

"With the vaccines, we can prevent the disease in the short term, but for the long term, it needs to be studied further, perhaps for another two to three years. 

"At least, we (those inoculated) will be protected from the disease for the next three to six months," he had said.

This is where the government’s policies and measures take up a pivotal role.

In less than one year, the government has rolled out various stimulus measures totalling RM320 billion, which came in the forms of financial reliefs, aids, as well as policies to support growth and livelihoods.

And the government has been firm in assuring the people that it stands ready to step in when and if the situation warrants.

Hence, the optimism that the vaccine brings is not the solution to the long road to recovery but additional shield for the economy.

The need to adhere to strict Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) and normalising the new norms of physical distancing and facial mask remains as key.


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