It is the post-pandemic, many people said, but there is no need for a reminder that the pandemic has remained lingering, and this time we need to get back with our lives. After two years, where we have all witnessed the pause of our world, the knowledge we have acquired has given us the courage to reopen and figure out ways to recover back to where we once were.
On Friday, 13 May 2022, C asean has the honour to host our first forum of 2022 on the reopening, recovery, and resilience of ASEAN. From leaders and experts of the region, we had the privilege of having nine speakers from the healthcare, tourism, and government sectors to share with us their insights and way forward to regain our confidence in welcoming the world with pandemic co-existence.
“On the bright side, covid has shown us the power of technology and collaboration for the difficult times,”said Thapana Sirivadhanabhakdi, President and CEO of Thai Beverage Public Company Limited.
The keys to re-activate business activities and creating long-term resilience vary from country to country. Still, all depend on a strategic framework and guiding principles, which have underlined comprehensive approaches that apply to each structure and format of the community, country, and region.
Public Health Response Readiness & Preventing the Next Pandemic – Recommendations for ASEAN
Since March 2022, Southeast Asia has reopened its border. Border relaxation has been resumed under careful restriction to safeguard the health and safety of regional travellers and their country's citizens. Prof. Tan Sri Dr Jemilah Mahamood - 2019 ASEAN Prize Recipient & Executive Director, Sunway Centre for Planetary Health, Sunway University Malaysia - has shared her reflection on the pandemic and emphasised inclusivity when thinking about system changes and improvement.
“The improvement must be inclusive through targeted dialogue. It is time to adopt a new approach to deal with this. Moreover, sustainability is crucial to safeguarding our health in the future.” Prof. Tan Sri Dr Jemilah Mahamood
“We need to change how we talk about health”, the professor has cited figures from the World Health Organization (WHO) report, estimating that around 24% of the global diseases and 23% of all premature deaths are attributable to environmental factors to emphasis the unbreakable link between human and planetary health.
Reopening with Sustainability
With the ease of travel restrictions and international border relaxation, travellers are starting to plan their holiday destinations. The Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA) has suggested destinations that prioritise health & hygiene, resilience, and sustainability will gain a competitive advantage in their reopening tourism.
Asia Pacific is where COVID-19 has been the most impacted yet the slowest in recovery. Countries in ASEAN, like Malaysia, the Philippines, and Thailand, had lost more than 90 per cent of revenue from tourism and catching up to the pre-pandemic level has remained partial and imperceptive.
“87% of travellers said conscious travel is important to them”, Ms Liz Ortiguera, CEO of Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA)
Conscious Travel means responsible travel or the travel that doesn’t leave negative footprints or impacts on the locals and the environment. Travel businesses and destinations that are working on creating a resilience tourism transformation must consciously develop a plan that includes the five following aspects:
Health & Safety
According to Sustainable Travel Index Rankings 2020 by Euromonitor International, the top ten countries are:
Quote from Ms Liz Ortiguera, “My hope is that one day the headline would be “ASEAN is leading away in tourism sustainability”.
Amazing New Chapter
After the island approach, starting from Phuket Sandbox, followed by Samui and Koh Tao. Four months later, Thailand announced an on-land strategy, initiated test & go, and then the current quarantine exemption for the fully vaccinated traveller.
“When we think about the future, it’s not only about safety and health but also about the environment. Now, it’s the most important timeline for Thailand to get to a state of resilience.” Mr Siripakorn Cheawsamoot, Deputy Governor for Marketing Communications Tourism Authority of Thailand.
Amazing Thailand is still the brand. However, after the Great Lockdown, the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) has planned a campaign for the international market to promote Thainess, “from A to Z Amazing Thailand has it all”. Using Thailand’s 5F, 4M are Food, Film, Fashion, Festival, Fight, Music, Museum, Master, And Meta.
The campaign ‘Amazing New Chapters’ has aimed to invite the world’s travellers to experience a deeper connection with Thai culture and environment.
ASEAN Comprehensive Recovery Framework
The pandemic has disrupted the promising projected growth of the region and has the most severe impacts on vulnerable segments. However, ASEAN has proven its capability to respond to the pandemic swiftly and effectively these past three years. The ASEAN comprehensive framework has crafted the strategic recovery plan by looking at health, human security, economic integration, inclusive digital transformation, and sustainability. ASEAN has been taking many steps and processes to strengthen the recovery, starting with country reopening for fully vaccinated travellers and adopting the travel corridor arrangement framework to facility border-crossing safety.
“Despite the promising economic recovery of ASEAN at around 4.9% in 2022, the projection remains fragile. Therefore we must remain vigilant as we forge ahead our recovery effort.” H.E. Dato Lim Jock Hoi, Secretary-General of ASEAN
Toward the sustainable recovery, there are three key areas that the secretary-general has called upon attention. Firstly, recognising and optimising the force of digitalisation and technology to improve regional productivity, competitiveness, and ultimately, the well-being of ASEAN citizens. Therefore, digital transformation policy should encourage and support the space for the digital economy.
Second, we need to incorporate sustainability into how we live and work. The notion should become the mainstream practice as the pandemic has demonstrated that there would be no business without a healthy planet.
Third, we must recognise the surge of the creative economy by leveraging innovation development. The thriving of the creative economy depends on the cross-border establishment between creative cities, creative networks, and creative ecosystems in the region.
Lastly, his excellency has emphasised that those areas of focus are not only for the post-pandemic recovery, but the continuity must be steered forward to achieve the 2025 vision and post-2025 agenda. This reopening moment has provided the opportunity for ASEAN to recalibrate and sharpen our agenda for a more resilient, inclusive, and sustainable future.
Improving Green Productivity for Regional Rebound and Regrowth
“After the two-year battle, we have arrived at the reopening stage of the post-pandemic. We have witnessed the underlining proof of our resilience through one of the harshest challenges to humanity in recent history. ” Dr AKP Mochtan, Secretary-General, Asian Productivity Organization (APO)
At the beginning of the regional reopening and recovery stage, the path to resilience and sustainability has remained precarious due to the ongoing irreversible damages from climate change.
The APO has launched its Green Productivity or GP. This holistic approach promotes productivity improvement on low-carbon productivity to averse the impact of climate change and avoids the arrival at the point of no return. The core of GP signifies sustainability, and it must be broad-based by all stakeholders, including governments and public and private sectors.
The APO vision of 2025 for the Asia Pacific focuses on two keywords: inclusive and innovation-led, to achieve the goal of sustained productivity growth, operating in parallel to improving three key result areas (KRAs): the centrality of productivity; quality of the workforce; and smart transformation.
Although the work ahead seems daunting, Dr Mocktan has encouraged the audience to see this as an opportunity to enhance the collaborativeness effort that would improve productivity and sustainable development.
Malaysia’s National Recovery Plan
From the first case of reported COVID-19 on 25 Jan 2020 to the spike in the following month, Malaysian people at the time were feeling unsure about their safety. Then after one year, seven months, and two weeks (between 18 March 2020 - 1 November 2021) under the strict Movement Control Order (MCO), Malaysia has now fully opened.
Suffering a total loss of RM2.4 billion per day during the great lockdown, Malaysia has enacted the National Recovery Plan, headed by the former Prime Minister. Under the new normal, the recovery roadmap toward the economy signifies five critical goals: strengthening healthcare, immunising people, data and science, supporting businesses, and contributing to the whole-of-nation approach.
To achieve the goals of the National Recovery Plan (NRP), the government has introduced four phases of national recovery. The plan's first phase in June 2020 was when the country was under the total lockdown or the Movement Control Order (MCO 3.0). Followed by the launch of the second phase between July & August after achieving the three factors; the new COVID-19 cases had dropped below 4,000 marks, no reports of critical unmet public health service, and having 10 per cent of Malaysians vaccinated. In phase three, September & October, all businesses, except high-risk activities such as spas and nightclubs, were operating at 80% of their capacity. Today, Malaysia is under phase four, where inter-state travellers are allowed under supervision and observation orders.
NPR’s objectives are empowering people and propelling businesses for economic stimulation. Several financial aids are short-term, with a focus on low-income groups. At the people level, the measures range from wage subsidy programmes for income loss to subsidies on daily-basis expenses, such as child care, transportation, internet fee, and healthcare service.
For propelling businesses, the main focus is the SMEs by providing micro-finance, liquidation schemes, tax remission, and financial support for digital transformation.
Entering the endemic phase on 1 April 2022, Malaysia was well prepared to pick up where the country had left off before the pandemic.
Mindfulness: Building Resilience Mental City
“When talking about a recovery, what is more, important than the economic recovery is our openness and readiness to the new uncertainty. The power to recover from the damage and fear comes from no place else but inside of us.” Venerable Anil Sakya
Venerable Anil Sakya or Phra Dhammashakyavongsvisuddhi - Honorary Rector, World Buddhist University & Deputy Rector, Mahamakut Buddhist University - has bestowed the knowledge to defeat our fear, let go of our prejudice, and build the courage to begin again.
“Not long after my Cambridge acceptance, the professor pulled me aside and said that I should consider withdrawing from the course and returning home.” Venerable Anil Sakya was the first Buddhist monk who had received a scholarship from His Majesty King Rama 9 to pursue a social anthropology degree at Cambridge University in England. Unfortunately, the rejection has left him feeling inadequate, fallen into depression, and drove him to the verge of suicide.
“As I looked down to see my robe, I suddenly realised my duty as a Buddhism monk. I am a Sakya descendent; I had the blood of the Buddha. Then there was a small dot of light in that pitch dark moment.” said Venerable Anil Sakya. After three days of a vicious thought cycle, he realised that none of the pessimistic images he had created was real. So, he went back and rewrote the essay, asked his professor for a second chance, and he got to stay.
Our brains are hardwired to negativity. As a result, we tend to act more strongly on negative stimuli and amplify traumatised experiences. Therefore, it is essential to keep ourselves and gauge between reality and images. The advice from Venerable Anil Sakya is to try to remain present and mindful with intention. The practice would help us develop a solid and prejudice-free attitude that leads to recovery from damages or obstructions in our lives.
Everything begins with the mind, and resilience is the power that only you can harvest from the inside.
ASEAN-India Collaboration for Building a Resilient Community
ASEAN and India have shared a long history of geographical, political, and security linkages. After becoming a partner sectoral of ASEAN in 1992, ASEAN Dialogue Partner in 1996, Summit-level Partners in 2002, and finally Strategic Partners in 2012, today ASEAN-India relation commemorates the anniversary of 30 years in dialogue relations. The relationship history has been the foundation of the “Look East Policy”, which the policy successor called “Act East”, has continued today. India’s engagement with the region aims to support the following three goals. Firstly, enhancing the connectivity between two parties to encompass physical (e.g., transport, ICT, and energy), digital, people to people, and business. Secondly, strengthening the ASEAN organisation, and thirdly expanding practical corporation in a maritime domain.
The engagement plan has been implemented in a structural term. The 2021-2025 strategy aims to promote peace, progress, and shared prosperity, with 85 per cent implemented. The plan covered four broad areas: political and security corporation, economic corporation, social culture, and crossed pillars collaboration. India has created three funds to support the activity: the ASEAN-India Corporation, the ASEAN-India Green Fund, and the ASEAN-India Scientific and Technology Fund.
The recovery framework has started from the construction of the logistics and supply chain of the vaccine and the structural reform that helps facilitate India’s modernisation in digital and physical infrastructure.
Self Reliant India Programme Stimulus Package 2.0, announced on 12th Oct 2020, is the national recovery programme that included package measures worth Rs 730 billion to stimulate consumer spending in the economy after the pandemic lockdown. The objective of this programme is not to shun India from the world but to spare a passage of time to build India as a reliable partner for the global supply and value chain. As a result, this year, India is expecting the country's GDP to grow at around 8%.
In the wake of COVID-19, Minister of State for External Affairs (MOS), Dr Rajkumar Ranjan Singh, has suggested three areas of collaboration between India and ASEAN; Health security, digital economy and green sustainable development.
In conclusion, India’s internal and external approach has reflected the old Indian concept saying that “The World is One Family”. Therefore, the government has planned to promote connectivity with the region. Connectivity means covering physical, political, and economic relations that reach out to people-to-people connections.
Race to Zero-Carbon Society: Main Root to Resilience
“COVID-19 has brought us the possibility. There has been evidence that our behaviours could bring about real change. The world could stop. Our economic activities can genuinely slow down”. Ms Dechen Tsering, Regional Director and Representative for Asia and the Pacific, United Nations Environment Programme
We need to reduce carbon emissions by 45% compared to 2010. Zero-net, Net-Zero, Carbon Neutral, Carbon Neutrality, and Zero-carbon Society mean that greenhouse gas released to the environment is balanced by carbon removal over time. Resilience means the ability to adapt, learn, and transform.
Under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, resilience in business and the economy means companies, investors, and societies, understand the risk of the climate crisis and the importance of a resilient environment. Resilience in environmental systems means biological and natural ecosystems that ensure nutritious food, clean air, fresh water, fertile soils, and pollination services. The aforementioned has shown that climate resilience involves everybody and the ability to adapt to climate risk comes from understanding what is going on.
The consequence of a warner planet doesn’t exist only in the form of hotter summers. More natural disasters, desalinisation, water stress, heat waves, droughts, floods, and displacement will be more. If we don't change, we are pushing up to 500 million people into extreme poverty by 2030.
Moreover, an alarming report from Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) in 2021 says that only 8% of the companies in the Asia-Pacific region had signed on to a net-zero carbon emissions plan. Although ASEAN member countries have announced their carbon neutrality emission, the contribution is conditional or unconditional. An unconditional contribution means implementing a carbon reduction scheme is based on the country’s resources and capabilities. In contrast, a conditional contribution means the reduction will only happen if international support is provided or other conditions, such as financing support or technology transfer, are met.
However, at the COP26: UN climate talks in Glasgow, the key initiatives agreed upon among intergovernmental and government, such as the Global methane pledge, Deforestation pledges, Coal phase-out, and a Race to Zero, will not be achievable without the support and collaboration from the global private sectors.