Digital Penang PLC19 eCrowdSource: Hacking the Next Normal Roundtable

Apr 20, 2020 2:27:00 pm

A very good morning. 

I still remember that Penang became the target of vicious attacks and criticism during the first phase of the Movement Control Order. The crowding in Air Itam was pointed out by our critics. Images of people on the Air Itam market became national news, and they were replayed on social media over and over again. Some even said that the state government was doing nothing to deal with the situation, which is not true. I do not think those attacks were fair. In the first two weeks of the MCO, Malaysians in general were not familiar with the new situation. People needed to get used to it. Almost a month later, when Singapore launched the Circuit Breaker, we saw the same thing happening in our neighbouring country. 

My point is this, the Covid-19 epidemic has created a new situation that most of us are unfamiliar with. This has changed how we do things, how we move, how we do business and how we interact with one another. Many things will change.

Penang took early steps to deal with this crisis. 

As early as 5th March, when Malaysia was first alerted about the second wave of Covid-19 outbreak, we took steps to advise the cancellation of the annual Yosakoi festival, which will attract thousands of people. By 11 March, we issued a directive to suspend all events which involve public gathering. 

On 16 March, even before the announcement of the MCO, the Penang State Government had launched the ‘Penang Lawan Covid-19’ campaign.

Our strategy can be summarised into 3Cs - Control of the epidemic, Communication to the public and Containing the impacts of the disease. 

With the joint efforts from all, which includes the federal, state and local governments as well as the people of Penang, we have managed to do relatively well. Today, as stated by the Director General of Health, Dato’ Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah, Penang, along with Kedah and Perlis are heading towards being green zones. We have consistently recorded the second lowest Covid-19 cases per capita in the country, and thanks to the dedication of our medical frontliners, we have a recovery rate of more than 80%, nearly twice that of the national figure.

As I have said before, the first and most immediate impact of the epidemic is, of course, on our health and our lives. But we cannot deny the fact that the second impact on our economy will inevitably affect our lives as well. Hence, the Penang State Government is rolling out our “Penang Next Normal Strategy” to address the new situation that we are already facing due to Covid-19. I believe that we will survive this so-called new normal. Nevertheless, as a state and as a country, we must not only survive, we must aim to thrive. We must empower the citizens of Penang and Malaysia to continue pursuing their aspirations in spite of the new challenges we may face.

We acted early before MCO, and now, before the MCO ends, we want to take early actions as well to ensure that Penang is ready when we re-open. 

This is why, despite the limitations of MCO, we are organising this virtual round table to “Hack the Next Normal”. I am delighted that we have over 200 participants this morning, consisting of engineers, coders, system analysts and designers, technologists and perhaps even geeks in general, convened over the Internet to discuss how technological solutions can help Penang deal with the next normal. 

For the record, Penang has been a technological hub in Malaysia for years. Whether our SMEs or new start-ups, particularly through our Penang Science Cluster, we aim to provide a conducive ecosystem for people to learn technology, think about technology, develop technology and definitely utilise technology. 

I am proud to say that young engineers affiliated with the Penang Science Clusters, re-engineered the face shields together with doctors in the frontline and successfully produced better and cheaper version of the gear.

My team and I were the first to employ Facebook Live to replace our press conferences, allowing me to broadcast my regular messages to the public in a cost effective manner, and allowing journalists to cover my broadcast without having to be physically present - we take social distancing very seriously here. 

Both City Councils also utilised easily available technologies such as Whatsapp and Google Form to solicit data from hawkers to enable them to receive the cash transfer aid from the state government. 

The City Councils also launched campaigns encouraging hawkers and petty traders to participate in e-commerce. Of course, this project is still in its infancy, but I was told that some of the hawkers who signed up actually recorded increased sales during this MCO period.

Our Penang Lawan Covid-19 communication campaign utilises traditional and new media to reach out. I believe we are one of the few states with a dedicated website, facebook page and telegram channel for localised Covid-19 related messages. 

All these are just tip of the iceberg. The chinese word for CRISIS is a combination of the characters representing “Danger” and “Opportunity”. The crisis has provided us with an excellent opportunity to rethink how we do things. We are, of course, fortunate to live in a time when technology is readily available for us to cope with all these new challenges. I hope sessions like this will be able to spearhead Penang and Malaysia again, not only to survive the Next Normal, but to thrive in it. 

Thank you for your participation. 

CHOW KON YEOW

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