A harmonised approach to testing standards and vaccines passport is key to ASEAN's swift recovery

ASEAN Healthcare Webinar 2021 by CARI and ASEAN Business Advisory Council - Malaysia

CARI ASEAN Research and Advocacy, in partnership with ASEAN BAC Malaysia, hosted the “ASEAN Healthcare Webinar: COVID-19 Vaccine rollout and the recovery of the ASEAN economy” to discuss issues faced by ASEAN, and particularly ASEAN and Malaysia’s effort to inoculate its peoples and navigating policy challenges before, during and after the COVID-19 pandemic.

The session featured the Hon Khairy Jamaluddin, Malaysia's Minister of Science, Technology and Innovation who is also the coordinating minister for Malaysia's national COVID-19 immunisation program, as well as independent health policies specialist Dr Khor Swee Kheng.

Moderated by Dr Munir Majid, Chairman of CARI, the webinar was organised as a follow-up to the healthcare sector-related recommendations captured in a policy document named “A Pathway Towards Recovery And Hope For ASEAN” Or “Pathway 225” produced in 2020 by CARI as the knowledge partner for the ASEAN Business Advisory Council and Joint Business Councils.

The report contained 225 recommendations aimed to coordinate efforts to help ASEAN business recover and was recognised by the ASEAN Leaders.

Economic recovery is dependent on a successful vaccination program

In his keynote presentation, Minister Jamaluddin shared that we have seen evidence of successful results from the immunisation program in several countries. This shows that a successful immunisation program leads to the opening and speedy recovery of the economy.

The ongoing rollout of vaccinations among ASEAN countries is showing positive signs. The World Bank forecasts Malaysia’s economy to grow by 6% in 2021 after contracting by 5.8% in 2020, premised on the effective roll-out of a vaccination program, continued improvements in exports and a build-up in momentum, particularly in consumption and investment.

The Philippines projects a growth range of 6.5% to 7.5% in 2021, as the economy reopens further and vaccinations begin. In Indonesia, sectors with high overseas demand have partially recovered due to a rebound in commodity prices and expect GDP to grow between 4.5% and 5.5%. Singapore expects its forecast of GDP growth of 4% to 6% for 2021 and has urged businesses to have meetings in the country's COVID-19-free bubbles as part of its effort in re-opening travel into the country.

Globally, the World Bank projects the global economy to expand by 4% in 2021 where vaccine deployment and investment are key to sustaining the recovery.  

With regards to the digital health certificate or passport, the Minister said the World Health Organization (WHO) had, on 19 March 2021, issued an early guideline to suggest the principles, technology enhancement as well as the role of respective agencies that is required to create a vaccination certificate.

Malaysia, through Malaysia Airlines, has begun discussing with the International Air Transport Association (IATA)to allow our vaccination certificate that is currently pushed through the MySejahtera app to be accepted internationally.
“Malaysia has also begun discussions with Singapore and China with regards to travel bubbles as there are more than 450,000 people that frequent the Selat Johor border and the second link bridge daily to and from Singapore and given that China is our biggest trade partner the past 12 years with a total trade amount of RM316 billion in 2019,” he added.

ASEAN cooperation in vaccine rollout: more needs to be done

Dr Munir concurred with the viewpoint but opined that the vaccines offer more than just a chink of light as evidence of immunity however hotly debated. Nevertheless, the government must also, concurrently make self-testing equipment available to individual citizens to give the confidence and trust that will allow the further opening up of economies and the movement of people.

“We have been talking about regulatory harmonization in ASEAN for the longest time. Now, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, harmonization in respect of accepted vaccine passports and virus test results is critical for the opening up of economies and movement of people. As never before, ASEAN must act together,” he urged.

Dr Munir noted that the minister has a thankless task as the supremo in the sourcing, distribution and administering of the COVID-19 vaccines:

“If the roll-out goes smoothly it will be regarded as something to be expected. If it goes wrong, from unfulfilled supplies, globally uneven distribution and unfair administering of the jabs, all hell will break loose. He is being severely tested. For reasons over and above public health and economic recovery, for the sake of Malaysia, I hope he succeeds.”

View the full session here.