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The Pandemic Continues: How Is Malaysia Doing So Far?

Well into its third lockdown, Malaysians look back fondly on pre-pandemic memories – where our activities and movements are not restricted and bound by a list of regulations. When it came to food choices – it was about what kinds of food to consume and which new restaurant to try out instead of “Is the restaurant in a different district?”, “Is it within a 10km radius?” or “Can we find them on Grabfood, Foodpanda, Beepit?”. It was about new places to explore, getting the cheapest fares and enduring the crowd at the airport when it came to travel. Now, people are longing to get on a plane to anywhere that is safe, to have another holiday without the concern of contracting Covid-19. 

A world without facemasks and alcohol-ridden hand sanitisers seem like a distant dream. Malaysia is evidently fighting hard to achieve some semblance of normalcy and it is especially difficult when our neighbouring country, Singapore is well on its way back to a new normal that is less restrictive and safe for her citizens. 

Source: Nikkei Asia

The looming question remains – “When will things ever go back to normal?”. According to the newly released Normalcy Index by The Economist, Malaysia still has some way to go. 

What is the Normalcy Index?

The Economist devised the “normalcy index” to determine which countries are returning to their pre-pandemic levels, by grading each country using eight indicators: Time not at home, retail, office use, public transport, road traffic, flights, cinema and sports attendance[1]. Currently, it is tracking 50 countries representing about 76% of the global population and 90% of the world’s GDP[1]

When the pandemic hit in early 2020, the index showed a sharp drop in the normalcy index with the lowest month recorded as April 2020. Gradually, different countries improved over time. Currently, as a whole, globally, the rating is 66 out of 100 indicating that collectively, we are slightly more than halfway back to pre-pandemic life[2]

Source: The Economist

Countries such as Hong Kong and New Zealand are at the top of the list, with both nations implementing effective measures against the virus and are the closest to returning to normal. Pakistan, China and the US are not too far behind. In the Southeast Asian region, Indonesia tops the list ranking at number 40, closely followed by Thailand (41), Singapore (43), and the Philippines(44)[1]

Where Does Malaysia Rank In The Normalcy Index? 

Unfortunately, Malaysia is the worst performer in a global return to normalcy index. With the country currently suffering from a surge of cases and the emergence of new variants, Malaysia ranks last place with a score of only 27.3 out of 100.  What is worse is that Malaysia continues to drop in rating in light of the recent lockdown, moving further away from normalcy[1]

Source: The Economist

During this time, each indicator of the index is affected[1]. For example, in terms of public transport and traffic levels, Malaysia’s numbers showed a drop in numbers with tight lockdown protocols and movement control orders[2]. Offices and retails have been asked to move to an online platform, fully utilising e-platforms for business. Flights, recreational and entertainment indicators like sports attendance and cinemas, are almost at a standstill with cinemas under threat of never fully recovering[2]

Normalcy Index
Source: The Economist

Zoom meetings and Amazon deliveries have been two prominent features of the Covid-19 pandemic. Most white-collar workers are betting on continued flexibility in how much time they spend in the workplace; office occupancy rates may never return to previous levels. – The Economist[2]

Another way to analyse the ability of a country to ‘reopen’ is through Bloomberg’s COVID Resilience Ranking. Whilst the Normalcy Index measures how close a country is to going back to normal, the Reopening Progress segment of the Resilience Ranking analyses the number of people covered by vaccinations, the lockdown severity (frequency and how restrictive lockdowns are in each country), the flight capacity (the amount and frequency of air travel in the country) and the vaccinated travel routes (the number of open travel routes allowed)[3]

The main aim is to get things back to pre-pandemic days before growth can take place. On the Resilience Ranking, the United States (76 out of 100) is on top of the list thanks to its fast and extensive vaccine rollouts. Several states have already loosened mask-wearing mandates for those who are fully vaccinated. The ratings vary depending on each country’s strengths and methods in combating COVID. 

For instance, countries like New Zealand (73.7) and Singapore (67) are mostly normal as well, however are still non-accessible to the outside world. Their vaccine rollouts are still considered low in these countries, and they have not opened travel routes completely to other countries. In other cases many European nations that have succeeded in vaccinating 40% of their populations have opened up their borders and adopted quarantine free entries for international travellers, boosting their vaccinated travel route and the number of the population vaccinated scores[4]

Source: Bloomberg

The grim truth is that Malaysia was at the bottom of the table, ranking at 51 place out of 53 countries listed with a Resilience score of 46.6. Below Malaysia are the Philippines and Argentina. The ranking shows that only 10.8% of the population are vaccinated (one dose or fully vaccinated) with high severity of lockdown – meaning social and economic activities are extremely limited and a 90.7% dip in flight capacity[4].

In Malaysia’s case, the lockdowns and low flight capacity scores are credited to the prolonged lockdowns enforced due to the surge in COVID cases. The low vaccination rates are mostly due to the lack of vaccine supply made available. 

Light At The End Of The Tunnel?

Where high-income countries were able to rally enough vaccines to cover their population several times over, other countries were struggling to obtain and distribute limited stocks to their people. This has been dubbed as a moral failure by the World Health Organization, and a call of action has been made. 

There is no denying that Malaysia is still fighting hard to win the pandemic war and the rakyat is looking for silver linings each day until things get back to ‘normal’. Nevertheless, progress is progress. Our patience will be rewarded, and all we can do is play our part in following SOPs, rally together to help others and keep a close eye on our own mental and physical health. 

Explore Our Sources: 

  1. The Economist. (2021). The Global Normalcy Index. Link. 
  2. Code Blue. (2021). Malaysia Bottom Of Global Normalcy Index Amid Delta Spread. Link. 
  3. J. Hong, R. Chang, & K. Varley. (2021). The Covid Resilience Ranking. The Best And Worst Places to Be as The World Finally Reopens. Bloomberg. Link. 
  4. R. Chang & J. Hong. (2021). Inside Bloomberg’s Covide Resilience Ranking. Link. 
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