Every time I travel to London and Europe, I have been fascinated by the rich history of the nations. When I include old civilisations like India and China, I am always amazed at how civilisations have survived countless plagues and wars.
Due to lack of science and medicine, there were high casualties of human lives in a plague pandemic. Destruction of properties and infrastructures during wars are increasingly very extensive due to bombs and missiles.
Throughout the history of civilisation, there has been different kind of plagues and the most deadly pneumonic plague was the Spanish Flu. A total of 30% of the world population or an estimated 500 million out of 1.8 billion was infected with an estimated casualty of 50 million deaths (about 3% of world population then).
Spanish Flu, also known as the 1918 Influenza epidemic, was an exceptionally deadly global influenza pandemic caused by the H1N1 virus. The name Spanish Flu is a misnomer. The pandemic broke out near the end of World War I and it was only reported by Spanish neutral media, giving the false impression that Spain was the epicentre of the epidemic.
It was reported that outbreaks of influenza like illness first appeared in 1916-1917 in British military hospitals in France and subsequently appeared in military hospitals in Kansas, the United States, in 1918. Is history repeating itself? Nobody will know the true story of the origins of Covid-19.
All we know is that the pneumonic virus has been co-existing with the human population for the last few hundred years. And it will still co-exist with us for the next few hundred years.
The fact that we have to live with Covid-19 virus is a no brainer. The Spanish Flu was most deadly between the years of 1918-1920 and it dragged on till the mid-1920’s before it finally disappeared.
Modern science today has produced effective vaccines and modern medical equipments and treatments that is able to control the pandemic with lower casualties. Together with improved social behaviours, the world is in a much better position now to control and eventually make Covid-19 fade away. Hopefully for another 100 years.
After the world wars, most affected countries embarked on reconstruction efforts and they reset their priorities from war mongering to economic development.
Similarly, after each pandemic, families, businesses and governments have to reset their priorities from health concerns to economic survival, from personal losses to a hopeful future and most importantly, to handover to our next generation a better, safer and more prosperous world to live in.
Here are some thoughts on how Malaysians can reset their priorities starting today:
Lives vs livelihoods
The only way to solve massive unemployment is to help the micro businesses and small and medium enterprises (SME) restart their operations, as this sector is responsible for at least 50% of national employment. Our banking sector has to seriously consider writing off or reducing these debts (accumulated interests) as a form of support for the cash-strapped enterprises.
Having reduced or no income for 18 months has devastated these small businesses. Rich Western countries have helped the industries with furlough pays etc for more than a year but not Malaysia.
The financial institutions should forego their short-term profits in the national interest to help reconstruct and rebuild the small enterprise sector. The multiplier effect of a reinvigorated small-enterprise sector will only benefit the financial institutions immediately, from payment of cars, housing and personal loans to higher consumption which improves trading velocity.
The government can help out too in terms of exemption of penalties for unpaid taxes and the Employees Provident Fund (EPF) contributions while some form of tax or duties relief should be given to the small enterprises.
The main consideration is to allow these small enterprises to use the balance cash available, if there is any left, to restart their business immediately. Give them some breathing space and oxygen when required. Now that health risks will be greatly diminished via high vaccination, we need to reset our priorities to livelihoods. Not a moment too soon.
The only positive change from this pandemic has been the awareness of personal and public hygiene standards that was lacking prior to the pandemic.
Marketplaces and restaurants are much cleaner, homes and workplaces are more sterilised than ever, and hand washing is now a necessary habit. This reset should be maintained if not enhanced further.
Wearing of masks have been an old habit in Japan and China to protect from pollution. Wearing of masks in food preparation and service-related activities are habits that should be perpetuated in the years to come.
That includes wet market operators and poultry farms where the origin of viruses hopping on to humans often occur. Mandatory work wear maybe?
This new concept of working from home for fully employed staff members is an experiment with many unexpected results.
My three children and their spouse are all working from home. My wife is complaining of the high electricity bills for air conditioning and the constant feeding of so many adults throughout the day. Can we claim from their companies some living expenses?
Meanwhile their companies are studying the loss of productivity from employees working from home. A general estimate of loss of 20%-30% in productivity seems to be the rule of thumb. Can we reduce their compensation by a similar percentage? Should we reduce our office space by half?
Come to think of it, we do not need that many employees nowadays as before. Since headcount has been reduced, we still have the same performance.
Now we have employees who love working from home and make all kind of excuses of not going back to work in their workplace. This will become a major problem for management.
The other problem is the need to self isolate at home due to close contact with a positive case. Latest news in the United Kingdom, if you are fully vaccinated, there is no need to self isolate if you have come into close contact with someone positive.
We do need to reset this work-from-home concept. Fair policies for both management and employees will need to be set to prevent workplace misunderstanding.
I believe there will be no one policy to fit all the jobs and not all the jobs fit the work-from-home concept. Eventually there will be attritions due to disagreement on personal choices versus management principles. No winners here.
Next week, we will discuss resets on many other issues including government and national goals. This week, we will have a new government or an old government in a new bottle but whatever it is, we know that we have to co-exist with the same bunch of old politicians, at least for the next one to two years.
If you are fully vaccinated, do go out and enjoy your limited freedom and activities. Cheers.