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The False ‘No’

Across the globe, we are living through an unprecedented experience of our lifetimes. Experiencing the COVID-19 pandemic unfold daily these last 16 weeks has got me reflecting.

The term VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity, ambiguity) was introduced in early 2000 and was relatively unknown then. This acronym later became trendy in explaining the 4th industrial revolution.

But who could have imagined disruption at this scale? Post-pandemic, can we build a VUCA-ready government and business architecture?

My medical and healthcare career spans almost 30 years now and I have seen my share of wide-ranging challenges. But the challenges from this pandemic overshadows them all. The pace of growth and learning has been nothing short of warp-speed. Management concepts which took years to roll-out are now being implemented in a matter of days.

Whole-of-Government and Whole-of-Society have been advocated in recent years, but today, the COVID-19 response is witnessing an almost seamless inter-ministry and inter-agency collaboration.

The national COVID-19 front liners comprise not only healthcare staff and workers, but include others like the Royal Malaysian Police, the Malaysian Armed Forces, Civil Defence Force, the Immigration Department, various other agencies and volunteer groups.

The unprecedented amount of corporate social activity and volunteerism has been amazing. This was particularly so during the early phase of supply chain disruptions where we saw the coming together of volunteers to produce PPEs for the front liners.

Not forgetting the support and cooperation from the private sector, telcos, industry leaders, academia, civil society, community, families and individuals. Whole-of-Government and Whole-of-Society is possible after all.

With the pandemic having such a huge social and economic impact, now seems the right time to drive Health in All Policies (HiAP) to put health at the heart of government. COVID-19 has proven that health and well being require a holistic approach as they are influenced by many non-health factors including housing, water and sanitation, living and working conditions, employment, education, agriculture and food production.

Just how would the post-pandemic socio-economic policies be? Loaded with health agendas, I should hope so. The window of opportunity is wide open.

This crisis offers a unique opportunity to accelerate digital transformation. Virtual engagements and virtual work-space have expanded. Work from Home is practically possible for a larger segment of the population than initially thought.  Service beyond walls is not a myth. Virtual clinic is completely acceptable today.

Systems implementation and solutions for COVID-19 are going live at a record speed. Digital connectivity has become apparent in almost every aspect of life. COVID-19 has altered attitudes and accelerated the adoption of policies that enable the business of work. All perceived roadblocks can be removed – it is a function of how strongly we want it.

With rapidly expanding knowledge and emerging scientific data, polices and guidelines are being revised and updated constantly. In the last 5 months, we have progressed to the 6th version of our national Management Guideline for COVID-19. We are living the play-book on agile policy making. Aside from Divine scripture, nothing is ever really cast in stone.  Rigidity and slow decision making have little room in this pandemic.

COVID-19 brought unity and solidarity amongst public health, medical and scientific communities from across the world to fight the spread of the pandemic. No war or famine or any other disease has brought us together like this. The phrase Leaving No One Behind seems to characterize this pandemic; everyone has been touched-rich and poor, old and young, rural and urban, all races, all religions, all nations.

I have come to discover most things in government are possible when there is greater imperative – our health and well being. It has been a false no all this while. It took a virus to expose this truth.

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