Webinar on “Malaysia’s COVID-19 Response – the Next Steps”

In this webinar, Dr Azrul Mohd Khalib discussed the health response undertaken by the Malaysian government to tackle COVID-19 pandemic while Ms Intan Nadia Jalil shared about the stimulus packages implemented to mitigate COVID-19’s economic fallout.


Wednesday, 24 June 2020 – The ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute organised a webinar with Dr Azrul Mohd Khalib and Ms Intan Nadia Jalil as guest speakers to discuss the policies adopted by the Malaysian government to combat COVID-19. Dr Azrul is the founder and Chief Executive for the Galen Centre for Health and Social Policy, and his former work experience includes the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/ADIS and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). Drawing upon his in-depth expertise on health-related matters, Dr Azrul spoke on the health strategies implemented to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic. Ms Intan Nadia, on the other hand, spoke about the economic stimulus packages to cushion the economic blow brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic. She is the Chief Executive Officer for PNB Research Institute, the research arm of Permodalan Nasional Berhad (PNB) and is an economist trained at the University of Cambridge. 

Dr Azrul Mohd Khalib and Ms Intan Nadia Jalil share their perspectives on how the Malaysian government tackled the COVID-19 pandemic, and discuss options for future policy responses. Dr Francis Hutchinson moderated the webinar. (Credit: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)

Dr Azrul argued that the Malaysia has been relatively successful in tackling COVID-19, as the government kickstarted its pandemic preparations in late 2019 when the virus first appeared in China. Apart from ramping up healthcare facilities, the Health Ministry has also expanded diagnostic testing capacity for suspected patients to be tested for COVID-19. The implementation of Movement Control Order (MCO) since March, coupled with vigorous contact tracing, brought the reproduction rate of COVID-19 down to 0.3 from the initial 3.5. Private hospitals also assisted public hospitals in the fight against COVID-19. Dr Azrul however cautioned that Malaysia continues to face significant challenges before COVID-19 may be totally eradicated, with undocumented foreign workers being reluctant to test for COVID-19 for fear of deportation and the potential for a second wave in July as Malaysians celebrate Hari Raya Haji.

Ms Intan Nadia began her presentation by commenting that COVID-19 is an unprecedented economic shock, since unlike typical recessions COVID-19 induced a sharp fall for both demand and supply. Coupled with the ongoing trade-war between US and China, Malaysia’s short-term economic prospects remains highly volatile and unpredictable. The Malaysian government has implemented four stimulus packages to date, with a total bill which exceeds 300 billion Ringgit. However, the government has a narrow fiscal space due to a self-imposed debt ceiling (55 per cent of GDP) with much of the 300 billion comprising indirect fiscal injections. Given that 67 per cent of firms reported zero revenue during MCO, coupled with inadequate wage subsidies for firms, unemployment rates could increase significantly during the second half of 2020. Ms Intan Nadia concluded that COVID- 19 laid bare the structural challenges which has long plagued the Malaysian economy, including an overdependence on oil revenue, high domestic private debt and premature de-industrialisation. She suggested an expansion of welfare provisions for a more robust social safety net, and higher government spending in aspects such as infrastructure and online education.

The webinar attracted 80 participants from Singapore and abroad. In the question and answer session, participants raised topics concerning the reopening of Singapore-Malaysia border, economic impacts across different Malaysian states, and role of state governments in combating COVID-19, among others.

80 participants attended the webinar. (Credit: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)