Aye to vaccinate “economic frontliners” early but more details needed

By Dominic Tham


LIKE most countries around the world, the COVID-19 pandemic has hit Malaysia hard in two main areas: healthcare and the economy. In terms of health, over 330,000 people have been infected with the coronavirus in the country, with the death toll now at over 1,200.

In terms of the economy, unemployment shot up to around 5% at the end of last year. The economy also shrunk by 5.6% for 2020. To mitigate this, the Government has introduced six stimulus packages in the span of 12 months, costing about RM300 bil in direct fiscal injection as well as indirect assistance like subsidies.

But with the COVID-19 National Immunisation Plan (NIP) underway, there’s now light at the end of the tunnel. Broken up into three phases, the government has rightfully decided to give medical frontliners priority in receiving the vaccines bought using public funds. After all, they are most at risk, considering their exposure to COVID-19 patients.

Recently, Science, Technology and Innovation Minister Khairy Jamaluddin said the Government was also considering including “economic frontliners” in Phase 2 of the NIP, previously reserved for the elderly and those suffering from co-morbidity.

Considering how bad the economy has been battered by the pandemic, the Minister’s suggestion is commendable. If medical frontliners are inoculated first because they need to hold the torch in the fight to contain the coronavirus, then the same privilege should also be accorded to economic frontliners, without sacrificing the wellbeing of the high-risk groups like the elderly.

Economic frontliners need to be injected with the confidence to go about doing their jobs and not get overly worried about being infected by the coronavirus. These are the people who ensure the economy locomotive chugs along and hopefully regains the speed last seen pre-2020 outbreak.

As laudable as Khairy’s suggestion stands, details are still sketchy over who “economic frontliners” are. Do they refer to frontline retail staff who come into close contact with hordes of customers on a daily basis?

If so, which sectors will be given priority? Would someone who works in a restaurant in an international airport get preference over someone who sells fruits in the market?

What about the senior executives of big corporations like the CEOs of companies listed on the main board of Bursa Malaysia? Surely when inoculated, these corporate bigwigs can up their game making site visits, overseas trips and face-to-face business powwows that may help jumpstart the economy and bring in foreign investments the country is now in dire need of?

As the Minister co-ordinating the COVID-19 NIP, Khairy needs to be more forthcoming with details on vaccinating “economic frontliners”. If coordinated well, this will help jumpstart the fledgling economy quicker than planned. If botched, the country has to put up with unnecessary man-made problems on top of the havoc wrought by the coronavirus. – March 29, 2021


Dominic Tham is a FocusM editorial contributor.

The views expressed are solely of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Focus Malaysia.

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