Since the beginning of the pandemic in early 2020, this column has discussed “lives vs livelihoods” and the “new normal”.
Frankly speaking, all of us had no idea about the extent of the damage caused by the virus on the loss of lives, economic carnage and the drastic changes to social behaviour and our way of life.
To be fair, most governments had no clue either on how to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic and the solutions were really on a “trial and error” basis, with public health policies taking precedence over economic policies.
Lockdown after lockdown has been implemented in trying to slow down the infections, but at a great cost to the economic and mental health of the citizens.
All these sacrifices would have been in vain if the approval for the vaccines had not been fast-tracked and the vaccination rate of the larger population had not been accelerated.
Malaysia is one of the few countries with a high vaccination rate, thanks to Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin who has been responsible for the procurement and the vaccination programme.
By next week, 90% of our adult population would have received two doses of the vaccine. The government intends to allow inter-state travel and probably move the country into phase four of the National Recovery Plan or NRP.
The standard operating procedures (SOPs) will be simplified to the basic task of wearing masks, cleaning hands and social distancing of at least one metre. Citizens will be encouraged to self test, self isolate and self behave.
Having declared that this virus is now endemic to our society, we all must learn to live with Covid-19 and all its mutated variants.
Covid-19 will be treated like just any other serious disease such as dengue and other viral infections. It is now the collective responsibility of individuals and society to self manage in the prevention of the spread of the virus.
The “new normal” will most likely have the following scenarios:
Public health policies contained within the SOPs. The enforcement of the SOPs will be carried out by the Health Ministry. There will be no more lockdowns; only targeted EMCOs at outbreak clusters.
Hopefully, the enforcement officers will play an active role in advising errant businesses and individuals for not adhering to the SOPs and only issue compounds and fines to repeat offenders. No other ministries will be involved.
As the largest employer, the government must take the lead in ensuring a safe workplace by insisting that all civil servants be fully vaccinated before they are allowed back to work. Self tests for all employees every two weeks should be introduced. All frontliners at hospitals should be tested every week.
Employers in the private sector should follow the government’s lead by creating a safe environment for all staff. They should be fully vaccinated and tested every two weeks.
Yes, there will be an increase in the health cost, but it is better than being closed down or being told to operate at 50% capacity.
Employees have to play their part too. To ensure safety of all colleagues, they must be fully vaccinated and dutifully take a test every two weeks.
A safe workplace for all takes precedence over individual preference and needs. Any employee who does not follow the safety rules of the company should leave the company.
For food and beverage and retail outlet operators, it is crucial that they look after the safety of all their customers. Customers must feel safe visiting their outlets or might not return forever.
It is similar to having a clean and hygienic kitchen if you want to have repeat business. So, follow the simple SOPs diligently.
With businesses returning to normal, the biggest issue facing management is the new norm of working from home (WFH). Employees who enjoyed WFH will insist that this privilege be extended.
Management will face many arguments, from having aged parents at home to claiming no loss of productivity to being afraid of getting infected at the workplace. I see two possible solutions for management.
The first is a free-for-all scenario. Employees have the choice of WFH or working in the office (WIO). No employee is discriminated. This is the new workplace culture that the management wants to practise.
The second is having all staff back to WIO. Employers can plan an alternate-week WIO programme or have a 100% WIO policy. If you look at any appointment letter, you will see the working hours and place of work clearly stated besides other terms of employment.
These are the terms of employment which the employee had accepted. The management has the right to enforce the terms of the employment accordingly, which is all legal and above board.
I would advise employers not to practise selective WFH for certain employees. This is discriminatory and will create all kinds of problems for the management.
I am no expert in human resource legal matters but I have a good understanding of human nature and its reaction to being unfairly treated. It is better to lose a stubborn employee than to lose control of the team.
Employers/management must have a clear and decisive policy when it impacts the company culture and team morale. No individual is bigger than the team.
Discipline lost takes much effort to regain. Strong and decisive leadership is essential to steer the company through this pandemic.
Assuming the government removes all the restrictions of the last 18 months, all businesses will operate freely again with a few simple public health SOPs to follow.
Citizens too will follow the same SOPs. This is the new normal until the virus disappears from the air that we breathe.
We must all take collective responsibility to stay safe as we resume our normal life. Always remember that when the person next to you is safe, then you too will stay safe.
Real freedom is when no mask needs to be worn.
Until then, wear your mask, clean your hands and get your booster shots.