Displaying items by tag: COVID19

09 July 2020 (Thursday) 12:00pm - 01:00pm
 
 
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17 June 2020 (Wednesday) 11:00am - 12:00pm
 
 
Published in Past Events

The COVID-19 outbreak has led to the implementation of the Movement Control Order (MCO) in Malaysia since the 18th March 2020. The MCO has mandated the closure of all government and private premises — except those involved in essential services. This measure has impacted the cash flow of both the general public and SMEs, affecting their capability to fulfill bank obligations.

In view of the aforementioned, the government on the 25th March 2020 announced a six-month moratorium on loan/financing repayments starting the 1st April 2020. According to Bank Negara Malaysia (BNM), this moratorium is expected to ease the cash flow of SMEs and individuals that are mostly affected by COVID-19. This brief article sheds critical light on the repayment moratorium from the perspective of Shariah.

In Islam, the creation of indebtedness — within the capability to repay it, be it resulting from a benevolent loan or deferred sale contracts, is permissible. However, a debtor is responsible for paying his obligation in a timely manner or as demanded by the creditor. Failure to fulfill a timely payment by a solvent debtor is deemed a breach of other rights and may be subject to punishment. However, if a debtor is facing genuine difficulty in paying his obligation in due time, the creditor should grant the debtor a time extension for payment. According to the Quran: “And if someone is in hardship, then [let there be] postponement until [a time of] ease (2:280).”

Muslim jurists agree that a creditor is obliged to provide a postponement of payment to an insolvent debtor until he is financially capable of paying it. They also prohibit any increase over and above the outstanding amount of the obligation as a result of the given postponement of payment, for this will trigger the issue of Riba Jahiliyah or Nasiah.

The BNM’s new release on the 1st May 2020, however, allowed the recognition of accrued profit over the deferment period for hire purchase and fixed-rate Islamic financing. This has invoked various contentions and criticisms on how BNM communicates its policy. Nevertheless, this position was later reversed by the minister of finance on the 6th May 2020, which affirms that the moratorium will not invoke any extra charges, including modification loss.

On the whole, a debtor in Islam is classified into two types: a solvent debtor and an insolvent debtor. A solvent debtor is compelled to fulfill his timely obligation, thus is not entitled for an extension of payment. The debtor’s refusal to make a timely payment, while being able to pay it, might be subject to punishment. In some incidents, the forced selling of collateral and court action are necessary to recover the creditor’s outstanding debt. On the other hand, an insolvent debtor shall be given a sufficient extension of time to settle his obligation until he is financially capable of paying.

The moratorium policy should, therefore, take into consideration the status of bank customers and apply only to insolvent customers, with the exclusion of solvent customers. The banks are, therefore, granted the authority to identify their customers’ eligibility for a moratorium. This approach is line with the ultimate objectives of the shariah on the protection of both life and legally-owned property of customers.

For Islamic banks, the approach on the selective moratorium policy will ensure their financial liquidity and business sustainability amid this extraordinarily challenging time. Applying an automatic moratorium for all customers, irrespective of their financial capabilities, would deepen further the fall in Islamic banking revenues.

This is particularly true since Islamic banks in Malaysia have already suffered from low margins resulting from the slashing of BNM’s base rate to 2.5%, low fee-based income due to lesser demand for certain banking services, slow growth in financing amid COVID-19, lower oil prices and a drop in investment avenues due to a capital market slump.

Besides, COVID-19 has exposed Islamic banks to an increase in non-performing financing or credit default risk due to a high number of business closures and increase in unemployment. Currently, thousands of consumers are being placed under quarantine as part of the Enhanced MCO. As a result, these consumers might lose their ability to pay installments, particularly of mortgages. The closure of businesses would lead to cash flow problems, which in turn will affect their capability to fulfill the bank installments.

The pandemic might also bring liquidity risk to Islamic banks because new depositors have an increasing preference for short-term safe assets and safe haven investment portfolios such as gold. On the other hand, as indicated earlier, credit risk will increase significantly due to the rise in the number of business shutdowns and the unemployment rate. Consequently, demand for liquidity arises. Even existing depositors have now started withdrawing their savings for their daily spending, to sustain their life and livelihood.

 

Dr Mohammad Mahbubi Ali is the head of economics, finance, Waqf and Zakat at the International Institute of Advanced Islamic Studies (IAIS) Malaysia. He can be contacted at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Siti Fariha Adilah Ismail, a Masters in Islamic Finance Practice (MIFP) student at the International Centre for Education in Islamic Finance (INCEIF), The Global University of Islamic Finance assisted in authoring this report.

Published in: Islamic Finance News (IFN), 22 May 2020

The Quran does not mention any plague (ta'un) by name, but makes references to destructions of bygone people, adding also that calamities occur only within God's all-embracing knowledge (57:22; 64:11). Ta'un is the subject, however, of many hadiths in al-Bukhari and Muslim, including:

"If you hear of the outbreak of ta'un in a land, do not enter it; but if it breaks out in a place while you are in it, do not leave that place.

"When ta'un has struck, any faithful who stays patiently at home while knowing that nothing befalls him that God has not pre-ordained – earns the reward of a martyr," or "Death from a plague is martyrdom for every Muslim."

Lastly, "(And with regard to animals): The sick should not be taken where the healthy ones are."

Some Muslim scholars have drawn the conclusion that the Prophet's movement control orders during plagues are obligatory.

It is also not accidental that Ibn Sina (d. 428/1037), a Muslim scientist, was the first to introduce a 40-day social isolation measure calling it 'al-Arba'iniyah', which was almost literally translated as 'quarantine' in European languages.

The Covid-19 pandemic that has hitherto claimed over 325,000 lives, prompted authorities around the world, including in Malaysia, to impose restrictions on movement, business and travel.

The caliph 'Umar's management of the plague of 'Amwas is a case history of contemporary relevance: when the caliph heard of its outbreak, he decided to go to Syria himself to manage it. Upon reaching Surgh outside Madinah, he met with Abu 'Ubaidah al-Jarrah, Commander of the Muslim army in Syria, who advised the caliph to proceed to Syria.

At this point, 'Abd al-Rahman ibn 'Awf came forward and quoted the hadith from the Prophet that when plague is raging, one should not go from the non-infected to the infected area or vice versa. That settled the matter and 'Umar returned to Madinah.

The caliph then ordered that troops be moved to a healthier place in Jabiah. However, days after arrival, Abu 'Ubaidah died of the plague, followed by Muadh b. Jabal. Their successor, 'Amr bin al-'Aas executed 'Umar's orders to shift the troops to the hills, and to separate them into smaller groups to reduce interactions.

Covid-19 has also prompted questions over the higher purposes (maqasid) of syariah as to which comes first: protection of religion or protection of life. Although the conventional ordering of maqasid prioritises protection of religion (hifz al-din) over that of life (hifz al-nafs), actual life experience of the pandemic points to life as being the first priority.

Muslims were asked by their governments to perform Friday and other daily prayers at home to contain the deadly virus. Protection of religion had thus to give way to the protection of life. Travel bans imposed by Muslim countries also meant postponement of the 'umrah – and it looks likely even of the haj.

Congregational prayer and 'umrah are arguably Sunnah, not wajib, but even the haj proper, which is wajib, may be postponed to save life – a higher wajib. This order of priority is also noted in the following example: when a fit person sees another drowning, yet he runs the risk of losing the salat time – which should he prioritise? The answer is definitely to save the drowning.

Instances of conflict between the protection of life and that of property (hifz al-maal) have also been noted. Almost all businesses are shut under lockdown conditions and people are suffering, some with extreme hardship, yet all this is tolerated in order to protect life.

The traditional order of the maqasid that places religion first is based on an extremist scenario: when enemy forces attack a Muslim country, Muslims are duty-bound to fight and sacrifice their lives for their religion. But extreme situations are unrealistic, as no order can be observed in emergencies.

One also gives life to protect one's property, family etc., hence maqasid priorities should be based on normal, rather than extreme, situations.

For life is the sine qua non of all other syariah ordinances and should therefore come first. Hence, a corrective is due to the conventional ordering of the essential maqasid – if the syariah is to relate meaningfully to people's lives.

Mohammad Hashim Kamali is founding chief executive officer of the International Institute of Advanced Islamic Studies Malaysia.

Published in: The New Straits Times, Friday 22 May 2020

Source: https://www.nst.com.my/opinion/columnists/2020/05/594630/islamic-history-shows-how-deal-health-threats

Over the last month there has been much discussion about religion, as the world celebrated major religious festivals – Pessach, Easter, Vaisakhi, Navratri, Buddha Purnima and Ramadan – under lockdown. Public health policy makers were skeptical if physical distancing, the key strategy for most countries struggling to contain COVID-19, can be achieved during religious festivities traditionally marked by large gatherings.

And yet, with a few notable exceptions, religious adherents the world over have complied with the new norms necessitated by a prevailing pandemic. As the world grapples with this new normal of physical distancing, religious leaders will play a major role in deciding the future of the virus.

In the UK, all places of worship have been closed. The UK’s Chief Rabbi, Rabbi Mirvis, said on national radio that there is both a “religious and a moral imperative” to “stay at home”. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, broke tradition and delivered his Easter Sunday address from his kitchen, commending churches across the country for “responding to this challenge in innovative ways”.

However, in some countries, religion undermined the public health response to the COVID-19 pandemic. In the US, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis designated religious services as ‘essential activity’ days after a Pastor within the state was charged with unlawful assembly and violation of a public health ........

To read the full article please click on the link below;

Source : https://www.natureasia.com/en/nindia/article/10.1038/nindia.2020.87

In the past, fasting was attributed to human spiritual belief in worshiping God for meditation reasons. It has been practised for thousands of years in serving various purposes of life. It is still a practice today. Generally, the practitioners are subjected to certain dietary procedure which trains them to be better disciplined to gain better self-control.

Fasting to Muslims is a practice of abstaining from food and drinks, sexual contact, arguments and unkind language or acts from dawn to sunset. It is the fourth pillar of Islam. 

We are living in a highly connected world with a complex socio-economic models and networks that often generate issues for which linear problem solution method do not offer adequate resolutions.

The current pandemic crisis has proven this as we explain.

Normally, when a quick fix is attempted to unravel symptoms of a problem, the solution invariably creates unintended consequences that may exacerbate the problem over time.

Unfortunately, people tend to discount the truism that those dire consequences derive from their quick fixes and even more so when they apply more of them.

The same fix that seems to overcome a problem in the short run often creates unintended consequences that further exacerbate that problem.

Terms such as 'fixes that fail' or the 'cobra effects' have been coined to illustrate an event when a solution unexpectedly worsens the problem. Scenarios such as these were apparent during the initial phase of the movement control order (MCO) in Malaysia.

For instance, the government order to halt mass gatherings and promote social distancing unexpectedly led people to gather in stores for panic buying and bus stations to return to their hometowns.

A long list of unintended consequences of Covid-19 related policies developed one after the next, ranging from mental illness due to isolation, domestic violence, shutting down of small businesses and disruptions of the democratic political processes.

This list is expected to grow even longer with the reopening of public spheres and businesses after the MCO period in the absence of careful systems-oriented thinking and preparation.

It is important for policymakers therefore to thoroughly analyse and mitigate any unintended consequences emanating from their decisions.

"A policy is better when the more of these unintended consequences it takes into account before the policy is administrated" argues Homa Zarghamee, an economics professor at Bernard College, New York.

A systemic approach of thinking, planning, and leadership is thus essential in managing complex crises such as the one unfolded by Covid-19.

This involves cultivating a shared understanding of the nature and risk of the pandemic through mass communication, visualising causal relationships and effects through systems modelling and mapping tools (e.g.: dynamic interacting map published by the World Economic Forum) to spot unforeseen risks, identifying critical leverage points to instigate effective actions and enhance the capacity for coordination, and collaboration across different sectors.

In the context of Islamic jurisprudence, forecasting consequences of actions or decisions is technically known as i' tibar al-ma 'al, which relates to our concerns.

Its legitimacy primarily derives from Qur'anic verses that demand people to carefully look into the outcomes of their action such as the verse in which Muslims are advised not to insult the dieties of pagans and idol-worshippers for fear of reprisals that may then lead to greater social enmity and hatred (al-An'am, 108).

Hence adequate planning and consideration of the consequences of words and actions is highly recommended for all Muslims, especially for their leaders, law makers and governments.

In the current situation, policymakers and the society at large should be keenly aware of the complexity of our highly interconnected globalized world with reference especially to unintended consequences of decisions.

This can be better done by promoting a systemic approach for officials, industry players, and civil society organisations.

For many Muslim societies such as ours that are expected to return to a new normal post the MCO period, mainstreaming systemic thinking and its approaches should become part and parcel of the decision-making process, particularly in the attempt to mitigate dire unintended consequences.

The writer is a Research Fellow at the International Institute of Advanced Islamic Studies (IAIS) Malaysia.

Published in: The New Straits Times, Tuesday 12 May 2020

Source : https://www.nst.com.my/opinion/columnists/2020/05/591710/beware-unintended-consequences-when-searching-solution

In the past, fasting was attributed to human spiritual belief in worshiping God for meditation reasons. It has been practised for thousands of years in serving various purposes of life. It is still a practice today. Generally, the practitioners are subjected to certain dietary procedure which trains them to be better disciplined to gain better self-control.

Fasting to Muslims is a practice of abstaining from food and drinks, sexual contact, arguments and unkind language or acts from dawn to sunset. It is the fourth pillar of Islam. 

As the coronavirus strangleholds the world, we look back in time, into Ibn Sina's scientific discoveries.

With expertise in many fields, from medicine and astronomy to mathematics and theology, Ibn Sina was a Muslim polymath and the father of early modern medicine. Also known as Avicenna in the West, he was a great scientific mind who played a groundbreaking role in curbing the most-feared contagions a thousand years ago.

At a time when the modern world is grappling with the coronavirus pandemic, the first step the World Health Organisation (WHO) took towards flattening the curve of coronavirus positive infections was to insist on deploying the method of quarantine, which was invented by Ibn Sina to tackle the outbursts of human-to-human transmission of disease.

In his masterpiece, ‘The Canon of Medicine’, which was published in 1025, Ibn Sina argued that a 40-day period of quarantine was essential to weaken the spread of contagious infections.

In later years and right up until today, Ibn Sina's ‘The Canon of Medicine’ has become the cornerstone of modern medicine, so much so that the global medical community used it as the main lecture book for almost 600 years. The Muslim polymath gave inspiration to medieval and modern-day scientists and in different eras they bestowed him with names such as the Galen of Islam, The Prince and Chief of Physicians, The Teacher Second Only to Aristotle, and The Aristotle of Arabs.

Of the 450 works Ibn Sina is believed to have written, 240 have survived. At least 40 of his manuscripts are about medicine. Besides ‘The Canon of Medicine’, his second masterpiece is ‘The Book of Healing’, which is considered to be the largest encyclopedia written by one man, a magnum opus on science, religion and philosophy.

Ibn Sina was first to discover that germs caused diseases, explained the reasons and the processes of how humans develop jaundice and serious bacterial infections like charbon. He used the technique of sedation while curing some life-threatening interior diseases. He also invented the method of diagnosing diabetes by measuring sugar rate in urine samples. Despite his awe-inspiring healing skills, many historians say he never charged for his medical services.

The origin

Born in a village in modern-day Uzbekistan in the summer of 980 AD, Abu Ali Husayn Ibn Sina grew up in a prosperous family. His father was a famous governor and scholar in the region. Ibn Sina received extensive education in the field of science and philosophy. He was known for his astounding memory and intelligence.

At the age of 10, he memorised the Holy Quran. Soon after he began studying Aristotle’s works, drawing him deep into philosophy. While Ibn Sina agreed with Aristotle's discovery of atoms, he also found a major flaw in it. Ibn Sina argued that an atom cannot be static, that it can also be divided into many subatoms to the point of it becoming non-existent. His strong grasp of mathematics helped him counter Aristotle's atomic theory.

At 16, Ibn Sina veered towards medicine and in the following two years, he became a physician. He said understanding medicine was not a difficult task for a trained mathematician.

After becoming a physician, his contribution to subjects such as systemic circulation and microcirculation is significant as he separated the two thoughts, which eventually led him to conclude that germs are the main carriers of disease, the fact which a 1,000 years later guided Louis Pasteur's germ theory. 

Ibn Sina's ‘The Canon of Medicine’ played a crucial role in leading the world to The Islamic Golden Age, a period of cultural, economic and scientific development between the 8th and 14th centuries. The scientists who rose to fame in that age made important scientific discoveries that the modern-age scientific community benefited from.

Ibn Sina’s ‘Book of Healing’ became available in Europe with its partial Latin translation almost 50 years after its composition under the title ‘Sufficientia’. His psychology and theory of knowledge influenced the Western world’s William of Auvergne, Bishop of Paris and Albertus Magnus, and his metaphysics influenced Thomas Aquinas’ thought.

On the other hand, as a devout Muslim, he sought to reconcile rational philosophy with Islamic theology. The main aim of Ibn Sina was to prove the existence of Allah (God) and creation of the universe in terms of science with reasonable and logical rhetoric. His scientific and philosophical works were influential amongst Islamic schools until the 19th Century.

According to Ibn Sina, the soul and body are two ores which can contract diseases based on their characteristic traits. He examined his patients with a keen eye on details such as age, body type, temperament, nutrition type and lifestyle. He knew methods to check whether the patient's liver or spleen was normal or not by simply using his bare hands.

At the age of 32, he treated the king of Buyid state. As the king regained his health and strength, he named Ibn Sina his vizier. But when the king passed away he turned down the offer of his son who wanted him to continue with the imperial post. The angry prince sentenced him to four months in prison. Thanks to his assistant Jurjani, he managed to escape.

Famous Italian poet Dante mentioned his name in his play ‘La Divina Commedia’. Ibn Sina's portrait is still found hanging on the walls of many medical faculties across Europe.

A crater on the moon is named after him and several countries coined money, stamps and medallions in commemoration of Ibn Sina.

Ibn Sina spent the last 12 years of his life with Abu Jafar, his protege, and died in 1037.

Source: https://www.trtworld.com/magazine/how-ibn-sina-s-work-became-a-guiding-light-for-scientists-facing-contagions-35440

The Afghan Girls Robotics Team made headlines when they were denied entry to the US in 2017 – now they're supporting the pandemic fight.

Five girls in Afghanistan, aged between 14 and 17, have joined the fight against the coronavirus, designing a cheap ventilator that runs off the motor of a Toyota Corolla.

The all-female robotics team, aptly named the Afghan Dreamers, has long been more accomplished than average teenagers.

Tech entrepreneur Roya Mahboob founded the trail-blazing programme in the Afghani city of Herat, selecting young girls from high schools across the country, usually aged 14 or 15, for the programme.

It was a passion project for Ms Mahboob, a serial entrepreneur who became one of Afghanistan’s first female chief executives at 23, established a non-profit organisation to help young women to build digital literacy, and has since been named one of Time Magazine’s 100 most influential people.

Participants are selected for the Dreamers based on their entrance exam for the 9th and 10th grades, and the very best of them then get to join the national team – the Afghan Girls Robotics Team – for international competitions. There are about 50 participants in the Dreamers, and they stay in the programme for about two years.

In 2017, the national team made international headlines when their US visas were rejected not long before they were due to travel to an international robotics competition in Washington, DC. After individual appeals to the US Embassy in Kabul failed, the group took to social media to air their grievances. The teams' plight received international attention, and led to US President Donald Trump intervening on their behalf.

The Afghan Girls Robotics Team returned from that competition with a silver medal for “courageous achievement” won by their ball-sorting robot, designed to distinguish between contaminated and clean water.

Upon their return home, the girls were not only heroes, but inspiration for women seeking higher education in Afghanistan, where about 40 per cent of women are literate.

In the years since, that robotics team has graduated, and another has come to the fore. But Ms Mahboob has remained, spearheading a movement to tackle inequality with education.

"The only thing that we all want to do is help our people and our community. We will do anything to help them," she tells The National.

"I work with the girls, but mostly to co-ordinate. They are the real heroes."

Ms Mahboob now splits her time between New York and Kabul. She is currently in Afghanistan, initially to oversee the Brite conference (Building Resilience through Innovation, Technology and Entrepreneurship) – another brainchild of hers – which is due to take place in Kabul this June.

Other teams in the Afghan Dreamers have been working on big projects too, after all. One team was developing a device to help farmers with saffron picking. Another was building drones and robots to work in the mining sector.

But with cities under increasing lockdown in the country and the conference postponed, Ms Mahboob has turned her attention to ventilators.

"We don't know what's going to happen here in two or there weeks so we want to be prepared," she says.

Cases of Covid-19 are accelerating in Afghanistan. The first was reported in Herat, the country's third most populous city, on February 24. That number has since increased to 337, with seven deaths. But authorities fear it could get much worse – and with a compromised health system and an insufficient number of ventilators, the authorities face a race against the clock.

Which is why, when the governor of Herat put out a public plea for more ventilators, five young women answered the call.

This team consists of five Dreamers aged between 14 and 17; captain Somaya Faruqi, Dyana Wahbzadeh, Folernace Poya, Ellaham Mansori and Nahid Rahimi. Ms Mahboob has been working with them for about a year.

They are currently working with two prototypes. One is a gear-based system based on a design from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the US. The other uses parts from a Toyota Corolla.

The key to this MIT ventilator alternative was devising a mechanical system to operate the hand-operated plastic pouch, or Ambu bag, which hospitals have on hand in large quantities. An Ambu bag is designed to be operated by hand, by squeezing the bag, which pumps air into a patient's lungs. The mechanic version would cost about $200 to make. A company from Texas has now offered to help provide advice for the design and to connect them with others who can help them bring the concept to fruition.

For the other ventilator, the Toyota Corolla motor was used as it runs off a battery and is easily sourced in the country. And it costs just $300 to make.

Both needed to be made with local materials, Ms Mahboob says. That proved a challenge for the girls, as did working with a gear-based device, rather than their usual technological or robotic designs.

"The idea of these machines is that we use them for emergency cases, when there are no professional ventilators. The thing in Afghanistan is, we don't have enough ventilators, but that's the case for many other countries, even Italy or New York.

"If we don't have access to anything professional we can use these ones."

As cities across the country shut down, working on the designs became increasingly challenging, Ms Mahboob says. The girls' parents were concerned about them being out of the house as the pandemic raged on, but they were usually able to work together for a couple of hours a day.

"It's very difficult for the girls to come together in one place. The shops are closed, so we have to call so many people to open the shop – someone who knows someone, who can open the store to get that part."

The team was still fine-tuning both designs, and working with doctors to test them.

However, since a new governor of Herat took over a few days ago, Ms Mahboob doesn't know what the immediate future of her designs is. She hopes the new governor will look favourably on their work.

"We want to make sure that the government and the community are excited about technology," she says.

"There are other focuses for government money to be spent, but in order to compete and prosper in the 21st century, all countries must be able to access the highest technology that's transforming our world.

"If these girls have access to the opportunity or the tools, their lives can be changed. But not only their lives, they can change their community, too."

Published in: The National on  Thursday, 09 April 2020

Source: https://www.thenational.ae/world/mena/the-all-female-robotics-team-in-afghanistan-who-made-a-cheap-ventilator-out-of-toyota-parts-1.1002439

Since March 18, Malaysians have been #StayingAtHome or #DudukDiRumah under the movement control order (MCO) declared by the government to help stop the Covid-19 pandemic. The speed at which this disease spreads is like nothing we have seen before. Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin said on March 27, We are a nation at war with invisible forces. The situation we are now facing is unprecedented in history.... This unprecedented situation of course requires unprecedented measures”.

It is time for Malaysia to enact an unprecedented law: the Covid-19 law. This law would provide for temporary measures to aid businesses, especially SMEs (small and medium enterprises), that are adversely affected by the Covid-19 pandemic.

While we are observing the MCO by staying home, many contractual obligations are still running, including payment of salaries, rental of business premises, commitments to deliver (non-essential) goods and services, construction contracts, booking of events in hotels and event halls for which deposits have been paid, and loan repayments and hire purchase payments for machinery and equipment.

The government has taken various positive steps to assist SMEs through stimulus packages announced on March 27 and April 6, particularly in subsidising salaries, allowing rental waivers or deductions, and, through Bank Negara Malaysia, instituting a six-month moratorium on loan repayments. However, there are other contractual obligations that SMEs have to fulfil. Hence, I expect that after the MCO is lifted, there will be many claims for breach of contracts. If the claims are successful and the defaulting parties are unable to pay the compensations or damages adjudged, there will be many bankruptcies, which is absolutely undesirable in the tough years ahead. A Covid-19 law could grant relief to parties genuinely affected by the pandemic, giving them time to breathe and recover until they can meet their contractual obligations.

Many SMEs are gravely affected by this crisis, and it is not an exaggeration to say they are on the brink of collapse because they are running out of cash. The effect of having many SMEs close down is massive: About 98% of all businesses in Malaysia are SMEs, and SMEs contribute about 40% of the nation’s gross domestic product (GDP), amounting to more than RM500bil. More importantly, SMEs currently provide jobs to 70% of Malaysia’s workforce. We cannot let SMEs, the backbone of the country’s economy, collapse.

It is the government’s duty to intervene. Singapore has tabled the Covid-19 (Temporary Measures) Bill for debate in its Parliament. Policymakers are calling the law a “legal circuit breaker”. In a free market economy, governments are generally reluctant to intervene with contracts entered into in the business community, thus upholding the sanctity of contract. However, during a crisis like this, and looking at the magnitude of effects caused by the Covid-19 outbreak, governments should introduce laws to save the economy.

Malaysia could use Singapore’s law as a reference point. The “legal circuit breaker” could cover several types of contracts, such as:

Construction-related contractsThe supply chain in the construction industry has been badly affected by the MCO. Many countries have imposed movement controls or lockdowns, causing shortages of materials. Manpower is also a huge concern, and many foreign workers are not able to enter Malaysia or leave their home countries due to travel restrictions.

A Covid-19 law should allow delays during the effected period to be disregarded and extensions granted. For example, housing developers who have signed sales and purchase agreements with purchasers under prescribed Schedule G or Schedule H agreements (which do not have a force majeure clause) should be allowed an extension to deliver vacant possession to purchasers. Being penalised for 10% a year liquidated damages is unfair. Likewise, employers in construction contracts should not slap contractors with damages if construction work is delayed due to the MCO.

Tenancy and lease of non-residential properties: Tenants who are genuinely unable to pay rent as a result of Covid-19 may seek relief by serving their landlords with notice. The Covid-19 law should prohibit the landlord from commencing legal proceedings against the tenant for a prescribed period of time, being the period affected by the pandemic, for this type of contract.

This does not mean that tenants no longer need to pay the rent during the affected period, it just means that payment is deferred to a time deemed appropriate by the law without the risk of being evicted or the tenancy being terminated by the landlord.

To reduce the burden on the landlord, the law should also allow the landlord to utilise the security/rental deposit to cover the outstanding rent for this period. The deposit should be topped-up by the tenant after an appropriate period of time.

Tourism, hospitality and event contractsIn this area, it is common for people to make advance bookings; many are made as long as one year ahead, for example, conference halls for international events, hotel banquet rooms for wedding receptions, etc. The hotel or event company usually collects a deposit to confirm the booking.

For events planned during the MCO period, it would be unfair for hotels or event companies to forfeit the deposit when an event is cancelled. It is not that the client chooses not to hold the event, the MCO forces the decision. If the event can be postponed to a later date, the deposit should be kept and utilised in the future.

Loan and hire purchase agreements: Bank Negara Malaysia has announced a moratorium on loans for six months. This is a great move that has been welcomed by the business community. A Covid-19 law, however, could step further to regulate the mechanisms of the moratorium and recovery process after the six-month moratorium period.

In Singapore, the threshold for individual bankruptcy and a company’s winding-up will be increased and the time period of statutory notice also increased to six months if the Covid-19 law is passed there. In another words, it would be harder to make a person or company bankrupt during this tough time.

Under existing laws, many risk becoming bankrupt due to the cash flow issue. This could even happen to good companies with a lot of potential. A Malaysian Covid-19 law could avoid such legal massacres.

Legality of online virtual meetings: During the MCO period, many companies are holding online meetings as staff are working from home. Legal issues remain to be tested whether companies or organisations can hold online general meetings. Even after the MCO is lifted, mass gatherings would still be discouraged so companies and organisations should be allowed to hold general meetings online. This is the new normal we have to learn adapt to now.

Legality of witnessing the signing of legal documents online: Many legal documents in Malaysia – especially those involving the transfer or charge of properties – require signatures to be witnessed by a lawyer. In the new normal, the Covid-19 law should allow the act of signing to be witnessed by the lawyer watching online.

The concern arises whether the document signed during an online session is the same as the final document received by the lawyer. Such concerns can be addressed by the lawyer doing a verification after the document is received. If we are heading into an era where court hearings can be conducted online, witnessing requiring a physical presence should be relaxed.

It is timely to enact a Covid-19 law when Parliament next meets to save SMEs and the economy as a whole. Many SMEs will not be able to survive if contractual obligations have to be met during this Covid-19 crisis – and even after the MCO is lifted, businesses will need time to recover from it. Let us give them time to rebuild. Given such assistance, SMEs will emerge stronger and better in the future, which would be good for the country in general.

Stay strong and stay safe.

DATUK DR TEH TAI YONG, Vice-president, China-Asean Legal Corporation Centre (CALCC) and vice-president, Persatuan Usahawan Maju Malaysia (PUMM)

Published in: The Star on Saturday, 11 April 2020

Source: https://www.thestar.com.my/opinion/letters/2020/04/11/malaysia-needs-to-enact-a-covid-19-law-to-help-the-economy-to-recover

There is no safe way to emerge from our collective shelter-in-place orders and restart the economy before an effective Covid-19 vaccine arrives — but there are smart, science-based ways to do it.

The question can’t be left entirely up to experts. It’s not a safety problem so much as an ethical one; many of us would accept a certain risk of death for the chance to return to a more fully lived life. But putting ourselves at risk means putting others at risk — and some are much more likely to die.
 
That said, scientific facts, clearly communicated, can help us make an informed decision about when to re-open. And as to that, experts have some good ideas. Former CDC director Tom Frieden laid out some in a recent virtual press conference. Now CEO of a public health initiative called Resolve to Save Lives, he and his colleagues have come up with three criteria to determine when we can regain our freedom.
 
First is evidence that infection rates are going down even as testing is increasing. There are signs this is close to happening in California, and New York may not be far behind. Cases are still on the rise in many other states, but there’s good reason to think social distancing measures will turn that around in late April and May. (The Frieden plan would also call for a new phase of shelter in place if cases start to rise enough to again threaten to swamp the healthcare system.)
 
The next requirement is creation of testing and contact tracing infrastructure on a massive scale, so that everyone who feels symptoms can get tested, and anyone else who came into contact with them can, too.

The final piece is a stronger health care system. That means every hospital’s staff must have adequate masks and other protective gear, and every hospital must have capacity to deal with a quick doubling of intensive care patients. We’ll also need new health care facilities for homeless people and others who are not equipped to recover at home if they get sick but don’t require hospitalization.

The importance of preparing the health care system can’t be underestimated, says Purdue virology professor David Sanders. That means preparing all health care workers, not just the ones treating Covid-19 patients. A certain number of people coming to doctors or hospitals for other reasons will be infectious, putting doctors or nurses at risk of picking up the virus and spreading it to other patients. Nursing homes, too, will have to implement changes that make it less likely for the virus to spread among residents.

Testing 5–10 million people every single day is the crux of a similar plan devised by a group of academics headed by Harvard political science and ethics professor Danielle Allen. It’s expensive for sure, but less expensive than staying confined to our homes or allowing the virus to ravage the country, Allen and her collaborators say. Economist Rajiv Sethi, one of the architects of that plan, said that regular testing should start with health care workers, people in the food industry and sanitation workers before being extended to the general population.

Testing would be combined with contact tracing — done at least partly through smartphone tracking, says Sethi, who is a professor at Barnard College, Columbia University and an external professor at the Santa Fe Institute. Singapore and several other countries are already doing this, and last week Apple and Google announced plans to create a Bluetooth-based contact tracing app. In theory, once a person tests positive, the system could alert everyone that person recently came into close contact with. Those people could then quickly get tested.

With all of these plans, the timing depends on how much the federal government can commit to them. 

Another possibility, without such a massive investment in testing and contact tracing, is intermittent social distancing. In a paper published Tuesday in Science, Harvard epidemiologist Marc Lipsitch and colleagues examined how that might play out. If we're lucky and people who’ve had the infection remain immune for a year or more, relaxing social distancing over the summer would have the advantage of building up some herd immunity — lessening future spread by reducing the number of susceptible hosts.  
Still, another big peak would probably appear in the fall, especially if there is some seasonal variation, and so we’d need good surveillance to start the next phase of social distancing early. Such intermittent periods of social distancing might go on until 2022 barring a vaccine or big advances in treatment. 

Peter Sandman, a risk communication consultant who showed foresight in early February, says in an email that we also need better public understanding. Many people don’t really understand why we’re sheltering in place. If you ask them, they’ll say something about flattening the curve, but when you press on what that means, he said, “they get hazy.”

They think they’re unlikely to get sick if we re-open at the right time and they follow the expert advice on hand washing. “That would be mistaken,” he says. Scientific advances may help future infection and death rates, as we learn more about how the disease is spread, how much immunity people retain after infection, and which treatment options work best for the severely ill. But people will get infected no matter when we re-open the country, and some of them will die. That needs to be understood. 

Keeping the economy locked down isn’t “safe” either, says Sandman. Somewhere, someone is not getting a malignant breast tumor checked, and someone who lost a job will commit suicide.

Conversely, reopening the economy doesn’t mean going back to business as usual. There will be businesses that don’t exist anymore, warns economist Sethi. People will have to retrain for different kinds of jobs. We’ll be restarting an economy, but it won’t be the same economy.

Frieden, in unveiling his science-based plan, quipped that it had to be about data, not dates. But Allen’s group, informed by ethics and economics, points out that it’s bad for morale and businesses to quarantine people indefinitely.

Ultimately, the choice of when to reopen one is not a scientific question, but a moral one informed by science: how much coronavirus risk are we willing to accept?

Faye Flam is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist. She has written for the Economist, the New York Times, the Washington Post, Psychology Today, Science and other publications. She has a degree in geophysics from the California Institute of Technology.

Source: https://www.bloomberg.com/opinion/articles/2020-04-14/reopening-the-economy-post-coronavirus-is-about-ethics

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