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The fallacy of the ‘either-or’ dichotomy in the war against Covid-19

This is not just a health crisis, nor is it merely an economic one – it's a double whammy crisis.

Fathul Mohd Abidin
3 minute read

The country has entered its most critical stage with all-time high new Covid-19 infections and fatalities reported almost daily in recent weeks. Our healthcare facilities nationwide are at breaking point, if they were not already.

As a sense of doom descends amid the spike in infections and body count, the overriding question in our national conversation now is: are we on the right track?

The debate over this invariably revolves around the idea of choosing between saving lives and saving livelihoods.

The government’s decision not to pursue a lockdown, opting instead to keep the economic sector open under stricter SOPs, has been criticised by certain quarters. The criticism is further fuelled by a certain former prime minister and his supporters, though we as the people should really question the political motives behind their calls for a lockdown.

The choice before us need not be limited to choosing between saving lives and saving livelihoods. We should not divide ourselves by this. From the very beginning, with the pandemic disrupting supply chains and trade across the globe, we have been facing a war on two fronts: both the health AND economic fronts.

Since this outbreak began last year, the government has been introducing policies and measures that aim to simultaneously save lives AND livelihoods. Like my fellow Malaysians, I too share some frustration at certain measures and with pandemic fatigue creeping up on us, it is easy to have blinkered views of the matter.

For example, a person who has lost family members and close friends to the virus may get frustrated over why the government refuses to impose the kind of lockdown we first saw during MCO 1.0, which started on March 18, 2020.

Likewise, a restaurant operator struggling to feed his children may find the government’s latest decision to ban dining in harsh, just as the economy was starting to sputter along after restrictions were slowly eased late last year.

Both views are correct but fail to take into account the holistic outlook required to tackle the most daunting crisis the country has faced since independence.

Busting the coronavirus chain of infection need not mean depriving millions of individuals from feeding and sustaining their families. Vice-versa, keeping the economic sector open should not necessarily result in a failure to win the war against Covid-19.

Recently, former health minister Dzulkefly Ahmad said that a lockdown would not be a silver bullet to overcome this pandemic and would only delay, not stop, the deadly virus.

In fact, as studies have shown, MCO 2.0 proved that it is possible to keep infection numbers down without closing the economic sector. Finance Minister Tengku Zafrul Aziz also warned that if the restrictions imposed during MCO 1.0 were reintroduced now, as many as 2.8 million people would be projected to lose their sources of income while as many as 40% of our SMEs would be shuttered for good. This could certainly lead to an economic disaster that could set Malaysia back by years and plunge the nation into great despair.

Having said that, Malaysians should be mindful of attempts to stoke public anger and divide for political means using the “either health or economy” argument.

This is not just a health crisis, nor is it merely an economic one. It’s a double whammy crisis. The truth is for the sake of this country’s progress and future, we cannot simply choose between lives or livelihoods – not while we can strike a reasonable balance between the two. For the future of our people and coming generations, there can only be one form of victory, and that is to win on both accounts.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the position of MalaysiaNow.