By Nur Adila Abdul Wahab
KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 31 – As the 2020 pandemic year of misery and uncertainty bows out, many Malaysians are hopeful 2021 will be a much better year.
Their optimism is certainly not unfounded.
First and foremost on their minds is the projected availability in the new year of the vaccine for COVID-19, a disease that pushed healthcare workers and facilities to extremes, disrupted and even shut down some businesses and coerced people to adopt new normal ways of living, studying and working.
They are relieved to learn that the first batch of the COVID-19 vaccine is expected to be obtained in February next year.
This has been made possible by the government agreements signed with pharmaceutical companies Covax, Pfizer and AstraZeneca that has secured a 40 per cent guarantee of vaccine supply.
Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, who had announced this, also said that the government is in final negotiations with Sinovac, CanSino and Gamaleya to secure a vaccine supply increase of more than 80 per cent or 26.5 million of the country’s total population.
The 80 per cent supply exceeds the government’s initial target to provide vaccines to 70 per cent of Malaysians.
Muhyiddin has also given the assurance that the vaccine will be given free to Malaysians with priority for high-risk groups, among them the frontliners, the elderly and patients with non-communicable diseases (NCDs).
The cost to the government is a whopping US$504.4 million (RM2.05 billion), but it is secondary to ensuring that as many people as possible can be protected from the coronavirus.
It cannot be denied that the pandemic has forced many people to work from home, and use more of the Internet to stay connected with the office or their clients, as well as make and receive payments. Their need to have uninterrupted connectivity and secure online transactions has become all the more greater.
In this context, the maiden ASEAN Digital Ministers’ Meeting (ADGMIN1) to be hosted by Malaysia on Jan 21 and 22 could not have come at a better time.
Communications and Multimedia Minister Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah is scheduled to chair the virtual meeting that has the theme “ASEAN: A Digitally Connected Community” and which seeks to strengthen cooperation among the ASEAN countries towards building digital ecosystems as a pillar in the post-COVID-19 development plan.
Malaysia has been given the responsibility to prepare the ASEAN Digital Master Plan which is expected to provide guidelines for the ASEAN countries in facing the challenges of the digital economy.
Digital transformation is gathering momentum, not only in government and business but also sports.
Talking of sports, national athletes are busy preparing for the various international sports events that have been postponed to 2021 due to the pandemic.
The postponements may be a blessing in disguise for the athletes as they have more time to train and perform exceedingly well in their particular events.
These are the Badminton World Federation (BWF) World Tour in Bangkok (Jan 27 to 31); the 2020 Tokyo Olympics (July 23 to Aug 8); the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics (Aug 24 to Sept 5) and the 2020 Thomas and Uber Cup tournaments in Denmark (Oct 3 to 11).
Currently, 12 athletes having earned tickets to the Tokyo Olympics and 10 para athletes to the Tokyo Paralympics, while 36 athletes, including 13 para athletes, are training hard to qualify for these two games.
Among those who have qualified for the Olympics are Mohd Azizulhasni Awang and Muhammad Shah Firdaus (track cycling); Farah Ann Abdul Hadi (artistic gymnastics); Khairulnizam Mohd Afendy (sailing-laser standard); Nur Shazrin Mohd Latif (sailing-laser radial); Nuraisyah Jamil and Juni Karimah Noor Jamali (sailing-international 470) and Khairul Anuar Mohamad (archery).
Divers Nur Dhabitah Sabri and Wendy Ng Yan Yee (women’s 3m springboard); Pandelela Rinong Pamg (women’s 10m platform, women’s 10m synchronised platform) and Leong Mun Yee (women’s 10m synchronised platform) have also made the cut.
Ten para athletes from five sports who have qualified for the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics are Muhd Nursaiful Zulfikri and Brenda Anelia (swimming); S. Suresh and Wiro Julin (archery); Mohd Ziyad Zolkefli, Wong Kar Gee, Mohamad Ridzuan Mohamad Puzi and Abdul Latif Romli (athletics); Chew Wei Lun (boccia); and Bonnie Bunyau Gustin (powerlifting).
While the pandemic has been unkind to some, it has been kind to others.
A case in point is the gig economy. Many people switched to the gig economy to make money and realised that it’s a growing business going forward.
The Movement Control Order (MCO) requiring the people to remain indoors and work from home as a means of stemming the spread of the coronavirus in the community has given a boost to online shopping and the proliferation of delivery services.
People who opt for the freelance ecosystem are not only looking for an extra or a main source of income but are also driven by the flexibility in terms of working hours and work locations and the freedom to choose the type of work they want to do.
Looking at the gig economy potential, the Economic Outlook 2021 report released by the Ministry of Finance said self-employment can be a viable option for job seekers and initiatives should be focused on generating more job creators through entrepreneurship opportunities.
Recently, the government decided to relax the rules of the Conditional Movement Control Order (CMCO), particularly the restriction on inter-district and inter-state travel, and this has allowed some traditional businesses to breathe again.
As the people became free to move about in the country, the tourism and travel industries received a boost.
Hotels came up with offers on accommodation and meals. Low-cost carrier AirAsia took the opportunity to introduce new domestic routes to popular tourist locations.
Arguably, the MCO has contributed to a more comprehensive work-from-home (WFH) culture.
WFH is not something new. The Women, Family and Community Development Ministry introduced it seven years ago, in 2013, but the initiative received a cool response as people found it more convenient to work in the office.
Now, everything has changed. WFH has become a new-age practice.
However, experts believe that Asians are not quite ready for the WFH practice because of two common setbacks – slow or poor Internet connectivity and managers who do not wholly trust their employees.
Trust or otherwise, the pandemic has taught people the importance of maintaining personal hygiene with the practice of washing hands frequently, using hand sanitisers and wearing face masks having become normal than unusual.
Health director-general Tan Sri Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah said the Ministry of Health is confident this public health approach – of washing hands frequently and wearing masks – is the best way to contain the spread of the COVID-19 infection.
The pandemic, seen as a disaster by many, has taught people to be grateful and show appreciation. Let’s shower our gratefulness and appreciation on more people as we step into 2021. Be optimistic, for there’s light at the end of the tunnel! – BERNAMA