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Benchmarking government response on Covid-19 in Malaysia vs. key countries

by Khairul Omar for Young Digital Leaders

As Malaysia heads into its third week of Movement Restriction Order (MCO), we seek to study how the lockdown is impacting the number of confirmed Covid-19 cases and to compare various performance measures with other countries. University of Oxford is currently the leading authority in tracking government responses from around the world in handling the crisis under its OxCGRT data repository. Based on multiple responsive measures such as movement restrictions, contact tracing and testing policy, OxCGRT generates a stringency index as a measure to rank countries on how strict the government policies are, which is updated daily.

Tables above is a summary of the latest scoring for each response category for Malaysia and other countries by OxCGRT, with the stringency index between 0 to 100 displayed next to the country name. Malaysian government responses are currently ranked at the lower end of the upper tier with an index of 71.0, although there are more improvements to be carried out particularly in ramping up tests and formulating a more effective contact tracing procedure. The latter is particularly important when the time comes for MCO to be eased or lifted in order to avoid a second outbreak, which is currently carried out by South Korea to keep its level of new cases at a relatively low and fairly constant level after the initial peak.

As new government measures are introduced, the stringency index is updated to reflect the latest ranking on how each country handles the crisis. The two charts below, each for comparing Malaysia with Asia-Pacific countries and the West, are useful in analysing how different governments reacted, particularly in identifying if there have been lost opportunities that could have been implemented earlier and how countries can learn from each other ahead of time.

Using data from John Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Centre, we shall explore how the number of confirmed cases has changed since the lockdown by comparing the situation in Malaysia with other key countries in the Asia-Pacific region and in the West. As most countries in the analysis have completed nearly three weeks of lockdown, we are currently in a good position to conclude that most if not all countries are a seeing a drop in the exponential growth of the total confirmed cases thanks to social distancing which reduces the basic reproductive number (R0), namely the number of people that each positive person can infect. Looking at the situation in Malaysia, if the growth rate at the start of the lockdown remained unchanged, it would lead to the doubling of the number of total cases in 4 days compared to around 2 weeks after three weeks into the lockdown.

Looking at the impact on the growth factor alone does not paint the full picture into the severity of the crisis. Despite all the signs that total cases are growing at a slower rate, countries that started off with a very high number of cases continue to see a large numbers of daily new cases due to the exponential nature of the pandemic which would take more time to taper off into much lower levels. The chart below shows how the number of new cases has changed in relative to situation at the start of lockdown (set at an index of 100) which is useful in comparing countries where the number of cases is several orders of magnitude different. Note that only countries that have gone through at least a week of lockdown are shown the analysis below.

Austria and Switzerland may well have had their worst behind them and are already planning on easing some of the toughest restrictions in the coming weeks. Italy and Spain are also showing signs that recovery is under way after three weeks of lockdown, but it is not entirely clear if the same could be concluded for the United Kingdom and Canada just yet.

The trend in the number of new cases in Malaysia is still inconclusive for now as it appears that there is no clear sign yet that the level is going down or worsening, as it now hovers around 165 new cases mark for the past two weeks. It is hoped that the ongoing measures will bring the number of new cases further down before plans for easing the restrictions could be considered.

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