Malaysia is widely acknowledged to have managed well the first wave of COVID-19 in 2020, befitting a resource-rich, upper middle-income country with one of the best healthcare systems in Southeast Asia and a strong centralised state. However, the pandemic has since evolved into a more complex public health, economic, social and political challenge for Malaysia. While Malaysia’s political leaders and their handling of COVID-19 have come under public criticism, little is known about the underlying resource constraints, trade-offs and mindsets of the key players.
To shed light on the Malaysian government’s approach to the pandemic, from the first wave through to its current fourth wave, the Malaysia Programme at IDSS held a webinar featuring two Malaysian insiders — a public health expert and an economy policy expert. Dr Azrul Mohd Khalib, CEO of the Galen Centre for Health and Social Policy, and Dr Muhammed Abdul Khalid, Research Fellow at the Institute of Malaysian and International Studies (IKMAS), Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, both provided valuable insights into the little known facets of Malaysia’s policy response to the pandemic. The speakers also discussed the longer-term implications of the Malaysian government’s management of the pandemic for public health, the economy, and its fiscal position and priorities. Finally, the webinar explored Malaysian society’s resilience and community-run assistance efforts, and how the pandemic had changed public expectations of the government and politics.