Malaysia’s COVID-19 Success Story

by | May 21, 2020 |

As Malaysia begins to relax the stay at home directives and people begin the slow return back to their day to day lives, it’s time to acknowledge and appreciate how Malaysia managed to contain the spread of COVID-19 and help the majority of infected fully recover. Let’s start with how it all went down.

Timeline of COVID-19 in Malaysia

Malaysia recorded its first confirmed COVID-19 case in late January. Through the month of February, things carried on normally as the amount of cases in Malaysia remained low and isolated.

During this time, the outbreak of COVID-19 was in full swing in China and the news wasn’t good. Malaysia took the extraordinary step of prohibiting all flights to and from China on February 9, 2020. The state of Sabah had done the same 12 days earlier. This dealt a huge blow to the Malaysian Tourism industry and stranded Malaysian citizens in China and Chinese citizens in Malaysia. But it seemed like the right move.

The banning of flights was fairly shocking news to many of us in Malaysia as it suddenly took the outbreak of COVID-19 from something in our newsfeed to something real. The ban kept the virus at arm’s length, and for most of February, it felt like Malaysia would come out with a few isolated cases and our lives would be relatively unaffected.

And then it happened.

From February 27 to March 1, the Tabligh gathering brought around 16,000 people together in close quarters for a religious gathering in Sri Petaling. The ill-advised gathering was host to Tabligh Muslim members from all over Asia including South Korea, which had nearly 2000 cases at that time. The timing of this gathering and the decision to carry on with it was a recipe for disaster.

As you can imagine, many attendees were infected, sending Coronavirus to all parts of Malaysia. At the same time, other clusters of COVID-19 began to appear elsewhere in Malaysia and suddenly, it became clear that Malaysia was facing its own COVID-19 crisis.

The numbers started jumping.

First there were two new cases, then there were four new cases, then 20. On March 16, the number of new cases that day ballooned to 190. It became clear that COVID-19 infections were growing exponentially and something had to be done. That day, the Prime Minister announced that Malaysia would enact a full on lock down under the Movement Control Order law.

Like everyone else in Malaysia, I came into the office on the 17th, packed my stuff, said my goodbyes, and headed home.

We all found ourselves wondering what was to come. Was this lockdown too late to prevent a disaster? Was it unnecessary? Do I have COVID-19? Was that a normal sneeze or a sick sneeze?

So we waited it out at home. We kept working if we could, we learned new skills, spent time with our families, and occasionally wandered down to the grocery store to pick up the essentials.

In the back of our minds we wondered how long this would last. Would our businesses survive? For us in the tourism industry, it was clear that things weren’t going to return to normal anytime soon…and it still looks that way.

For the first month of our lock down, new cases of Coronavirus averaged between 100 and 250 per day. Then, around mid-April the number of new cases starting dropping. Not only that, people were recovering thanks to Malaysia’s excellent healthcare system and a manageable amount of cases. We weren’t overcrowding the hospitals and we weren’t running out of essential supplies.

Even more, the response by Malaysian’s was heartwarming. My social media feeds were full of people making face shields for hospitals, sourcing supplies for the poor and needy, and people making sure their elderly friends and relatives had the supplies they needed.

As it turns out, the Movement Control Order was necessary and it proved to be Malaysia’s saving grace. By asking everyone to “just stay home” or “duduk rumah”, we managed to level off the spread of COVID-19 and after almost 2 months of waiting it out at home, we got news that we could start opening things back up and getting back to work.

Despite the economic risks and unprecedented nature of the lock down, the Malaysian Government went ahead with it.

They put the safety of the Malaysian people ahead of everything else.

What does this mean for tourism?

The global tourism industry has been left in shambles because of COVID-19. But we have to look at the big picture and in that big picture, the safety of people is the number one thing. It’s clear that the worldwide effects of COVID-19 are far from over. And since we don’t yet have a vaccine or sure-fire treatments, we’ve got to accept the fact that many aspects of our daily lives and the way we travel will have to be different.

We know that the tourism industry will recover, it always does. When it comes time to start traveling again, Malaysia will be a good choice. The reason for this can be found in the proactive way that Malaysia handled the COVID-19 pandemic and continues to handle it, with rigid safety protocols and very high participation in those safety protocols. The return of tourism to Malaysia will involve the same high level of safety and measures taken to protect our guests.

The decision of the country to take this virus seriously, early on and for the foreseeable future highlights what makes Malaysia special. We look out for each other here in Malaysia and we look out for our guests.

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