IT has been a long year. While we are likely to be flooded with year-end reviews that reiterate how miserable 2020 has been and how glad we all are to bid it good riddance, I would argue that Malaysians should remember 2020 as a year of triumph.
Human-caused disasters, wars, genocide, atrocities — these are catastrophic events that bring out the worst in us. But when humans face suffering they did not cause, such as natural disasters, we often see people being their best selves. Societies come together as never before to confront the crises that threaten us all.
Such has been the case in 2020 with the Covid-19 pandemic. Malaysia has shone bright in 2020; we proved to ourselves and to the world that we, as a nation, were up to the challenge. We
performed better than even we might have expected, and we surpassed some of the richest and most powerful countries in the world.
Compared with countries with a similar population size, Malaysia has been more successful in slowing the spread of the virus and played a leading role in Southeast Asia’s overall effort in flattening the curve. Malaysia’s management, by any objective standard, has saved hundreds and thousands of lives.
If our leadership had dropped the ball, Covid-19 could have quickly spread and ravaged not only our own population, but also the populations in the region. Because of our proactive, decisive and balanced response, Malaysia suffered no Bergamos, no Santo Domingos and no New Yorks.
Our success was not due solely to government measures, but also due to the extraordinary compassion, maturity and camaraderie of our people, and the solidarity between the government and the population. Malaysia is not an authoritarian country; enforcement of public health measures have been largely undertaken by the people themselves to protect one another.
While Movement Control Order restrictions have caused economic difficulties, the Malaysian government has led the region in providing stimulus packages to care for those affected. All told, Malaysia’s financial support for the people and sectors most impacted by lockdowns totalled approximately 21 per cent of the gross domestic product.
Malaysia’s high-tech industry and strong services sector have a more diversified base than most of our Asean neighbours, and we were better prepared to absorb the losses resulting from the unavoidable economic downturn caused by the pandemic.
We are forecast to recover faster than others, with an anticipated 7.8 per cent rate of economic growth in 2021 — the fastest rate among the Asean-5 countries.
It is completely understandable to be happy to see the end of 2020, but let us not look back upon
this year without recognising the tremendous feats we achieved in facing the worst health crisis the world has seen in over a century.
The lives that have been lost are surely a tragedy, but the many more lives that we saved are a triumph; and we saved them together, as individuals, as families, as communities and as a nation.
The greatest accomplishments, the proudest moments in human history always occur amid the greatest challenges and hardships; and to me, 2020 has been an inspiring year that showed us the power of compassion, of sacrifice, of responsibility and, most importantly, of solidarity.
Malaysians demonstrated to themselves and to the world what a nation can achieve when a society stands together, when the people have reason to trust their leaders and when those leaders genuinely focus their energies and efforts on the greater good.
As a people, we faced this crisis with patience and innovation, with resignation and commitment and with a sincere sense of collective responsibility. We actualised the sentiments expressed so long ago by John Donne in his famous poem:
No man is an island,
Entire of itself;
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
The pandemic did not force us to respond this way; different nations responded differently, each with varying degrees of tragedy and success. The way Malaysians responded was because of who we are as a people and we can be proud of that. So as we bid adieu to 2020, let us remember that it was a year in which we proved we can be heroes.