For Immediate Release
Penang, Sept 15, 2021 – The path to battling the Covid-19 virus is still far from over, however a zero-tolerance approach may not be a tenable solution. Higher inoculation rates, coupled with agile health protocols that accommodate the latest developments, as well as elevated efforts in testing and tracing, could allow the cautious reopening of the economy without putting strains on the healthcare system.
Rationalizing some of the existing SOPs and introducing more targeted measures are key to markedly contain the spread of the virus and simultaneously, providing a breathing space to strategize the exit plans for Malaysia and Penang. The strategic formulation as such is a way to minimize damages and striking a balance between lives and livelihoods.
Constant engagements between the State government and all levels of private sectors are crucial as policy formulation and implementation on the ground complement each other. Chaired by Dato’ Seri Lee Kah Choon, special investment advisor to the Penang Chief Minister, InvestPenang organized a dialogue between industry representatives and Steven Sim, Bukit Mertajam Member of Parliament, who is also the newly appointed Penang-Federal Covid-19 coordinator, to understand the State’s strategies and exchange views on the way forward.
During the meeting, Steven shared a few immediate actions in ebbing the repercussion:
- Launching of virtual COVID-19 Assessment Centre (CAC)
Penang will be implementing a virtual CAC to ensure efficient management response. By adopting remote surveillance, patients who are asymptomatic or experience mild symptoms will do self-assessments and will be monitored through the Virtual CAC Management Module. CAC Call Centre will contact the patients should the need arises.
- Vaccination for migrant workers
The State is in discussion with the Federal government on mechanisms to vaccinate migrant workers (including those undocumented). Suggestions included having designated PPVs to conduct vaccinations to commence soon.
- Further enhancement on COVID-19 statistics disclosure and communications with the public
The federal government has recently launched COVIDNOW, a new website with greater insights for data on COVID-19. The State is in talks with the Ministry of Health and web developer to further improve the data disclosure and presentation, such as statistics at hospital level reporting and granular data on locality. In addition, the State Assembly representatives will now be included in their local Covid-19 management committee, which consists of members from CAC, COVID-19 Immunisation Task Force (CITF), State Health Department, among others. With better information sharing and communications, the coordination among governments, private sectors and communities would be enhanced.
- Expanding hospital capacity
In expanding Penang General Hospital’s capacity, a field hospital with 100 beds (including ICU beds) will be built. The work will commence on 15 Sept and the facility (infrastructure plus equipment installation) is expected to be ready by end-Sept. The Federal government will also allocate additional 200 medical personnel to Penang.
- Setting up of risk assessor teams
The State is working on setting up risk assessor teams to audit, monitor and assess the risks in the workplace, factories and construction site. A more targeted approach to work with the industry players would better prevent the infection risks at the respective locations.
- Vaccination for teenagers
The State has gotten the commitment from the Federal government to commence the vaccination of teenagers in two weeks’ time. In Penang, about 130,000 adolescents aged 12 to 17 are eligible for vaccination.
- Improving Penang’s COVID-19 hotline service
To further improve the response time in monitoring COVID-19 patients and those under home quarantine, Penang has set up a new Covid-19 call centre, an addition and complementing existing hotlines and facilities. The State is also working with the State health department to further enhance the existing CAC hotline services.
Throughout the meeting, industry representatives recognized State’s efforts in tamping down covid infections and all parties are aligned on the need to review some of the existing SOPs. Several recommendations were highlighted to better address a highly vaccinated, endemic environment going forward:
- Simplify the SOPs and approval process for business travelers to boost investors’ confidence in Malaysia’s readiness to reopen.
- Given the increasing vaccination rate among the employees of the private sectors, the blanket mandatory bi-weekly mass testing requirement should be reviewed. At the same time, a more comprehensive mechanism for community testing is deemed necessary.
- Gradual reopening of schools, colleges and universities with the ramping up effort on vaccination for adolescents, as the prolonged closure of educational institutions can potentially worsen the talent gap.
- Total factory shutdown should apply only to companies with severe SOP non-compliance.
A whole-of-society effort is required to work towards treating Covid-19 as an endemic. With the new coordination framework, the Penang State government hopes to strengthen the ties with the Federal government in making inroads towards normalcy.
The dialogue was attended by industry leaders from Penang Manufacturing Industry Advisory Council [represented by Association of Malaysian Medical Industries (AMMI), Federation of Malaysian Manufacturers (FMM), Free Industrial Zone, Penang, Companies’ Association (FREPENCA) and Small and Medium Enterprises Association (SAMENTA)] and Penang Strategic Investment Advisory Council. Penang State assemblyman for Jawi, Jason Hng and Padang Kota, Daniel Gooi, and CEO of InvestPenang, Dato’ Loo Lee Lian, also attended the session.
InvestPenang is the Penang State Government’s principal agency for promotion of investment. Its objectives are to develop and sustain Penang’s economy by enhancing and continuously supporting business activities in the State through foreign and local investments, including spawning viable new growth centres. To realize its objectives, InvestPenang also runs initiatives like the SMART Penang Centre (providing assistance to SMEs), Penang CAT Centre (for talent attraction and retention) and i4.0 seed fund (a catalyst for the start-up ecosystem).
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Yeoh Bit Kun/ Ooi Phei Wen