A 24-month emergency response plan beyond the MCO

The events unfolding this week have shown clearly that we did not have any Emergency Preparedness Plan for an eventuality such as Covid-19. This despite having experienced multiple events such as H1N1, SARS, and MERS over the last two decades.

The scenes of human congestion in the bus terminals, highways and even police stations last Tuesday showed that we also do not have an effective Emergency Response Plan. We are now simply firefighting, responding in knee-jerk reaction to the fires breaking out around us.

Our doctors and frontline medical workers are fighting heroically to stem the tide of Covid-19 with a system ill-equipped for such a situation. They are being pushed and stretched to the point of exhaustion.

What they need now is a support system that can give them the tools to fight more effectively, a social environment to control the movement of people, and an economic safety net to ensure that nobody gets left behind in this difficult times.

The fact is that this coronavirus wind is not going to blow away after 14-days. What we need now is an Emergency Response Plan that can provide the much needed systematic support to help us withstand and weather this viral storm.This is not a two-week measure but a 24-month plan.

It has to tackle not only the issues of medical capacity but equally important the issues of how to keep the essential supply chains flowing – to feed our population, keep the power, water and communication channels working, continue the timely treatment of waste and sanitation and ensure the liquidity of finance for the public.

The Emergency Response Plan should also embody an Economic Support Programme. Aside from continuity of businesses, the immediate issue we need to deal with is the human side of the crisis – the loss of income, loan payments for housing, car, and credit cards, loss of family members, stress and psychological distress.

Such a plan will require a high level of coordination between the agencies of the government, federal and state authorities as well as local governments, and, most importantly, the cooperation of the private sector and the public.

However, decades of political abuse has left our public delivery system dysfunctional. The political turmoil of the last two years is but a manifestation of such a breakdown.

In this time of crisis, we cannot depend on such a flawed system to work.

What we need is a high-level task force that can direct strategic action along five critical pillars – 1) the medical frontline 2) population movement control 3) economic supply chains, 4) social safety net and 5) public communication.

This task force will employ a top-down and bottom-up approach to deploy initiatives rapidly and obtain quality feedback efficiently. They will be empowered to by-pass existing ossified command-and-control structures to work directly with critical actors from the government, non-government and private sectors to deliver clear and tangible outputs.

First, they will ensure that our medical heroes are receiving all the support they need. Second, empower key stakeholders to create intelligent local crowd control strategies. Thirdly, they will monitor and unclog the issues affecting the smooth flow of critical supply chains. Fourth, provide a platform for community-level social safety net initiatives, and, fifthly, ensure that the public receives accurate and timely information and is able to provide effective feedback.

The time for mature thought and decisive action is now.

We still have a window of opportunity to turn the tide of what will otherwise be a social and economic catastrophe.

Shahridan Faiez is an institutional development specialist. This letter is also co-authored by Hamdan Abdul Majeed of Think City and Yunus Yasin of the Association of Science, Technology and Innovation (ASTI).

The views expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.