: Crisis-proofing ASEAN must be made a top priority by the regional grouping in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic which has infected at least 15,477 people and claimed 527 lives in Southeast Asia, said Foreign Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Tun Hussein.
Speaking at the Special ASEAN Coordination Council Meeting on COVID-19 through teleconferencing today, Hishammuddin said ASEAN must jointly develop a post-pandemic recovery plan within the region in pursuing a more active and integrated cooperation mechanism.
He said Malaysia believes that a comprehensive regional response from ASEAN is urgently needed in dealing with the pandemic.
"A haphazard response will only threaten our regional grouping. We have an opportunity to act here and it is never too early to look ahead. With movement restrictions and travel bans, the COVID-19 pandemic has proven to be the greatest threat to ASEAN's spirit of connectivity.
"Collectively, as a group representing more than 600 million people - we must work together and aim for ASEAN to be a complete zero-COVID-19 region," he said from Wisma Putra in Putrajaya.
The meeting was chaired by Vietnam's Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh. Vietnam is ASEAN Chair for 2020.
Hishammuddin said speed, scale and solidarity are the three important elements which Malaysia feels must be embraced by ASEAN to win the war against COVID-19.
On the element of speed, the minister said Malaysia has operationalised guidelines to provide emergency assistance to other ASEAN counterparts affected in other nations due to the pandemic.
"Brunei has helped bring back our stranded Malaysians from Egypt, and we have done the same for Singapore and Indonesia from Iran and Nepal. True to the spirit of ASEAN, we are thankful for the assistance rendered to us and we hope this cooperation will continue in future emergencies," he said.
The minister added that speed also plays an important role in challenging fake news and rumours, as a delayed response could affect bilateral relations between nations and hijack ASEAN's agenda based on shared principles and values.
Hishammuddin also said that Kuala Lumpur, in principle, agrees with the proposal to establish the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) ASEAN Response Fund which will utilise part of the existing ASEAN Development Fund (ADF).
"Malaysia is of the view that we must prioritise the COVID-19 ASEAN Response Fund to expand the scale of existing emergency stockpiles for pandemic responses with items such as face masks, test kits and protective equipments. I understand there are shortages globally, but we must be prepared for any eventuality," he said.
Under the solidarity element, Hishammuddin said the Malaysian-led ASEAN Emergency Operation Centre Network for Public Health Emergencies (ASEAN EOC Network) has circulated daily situational updates and information on prevention, detection and response measures, complemented by real-time information sharing on confirmed cases and cross-border infections.
Malaysia-hosted ASEAN Risk Assessment and Risk Communication Centre (ARARC) also has played an important role in disseminating prevention and control measures, including preparedness and capacity building programmes, he said.
The minister, however, noted that there is a need to expand on the sharing of best experiences between ASEAN member states to avoid the risk of nations missing out on crucial information, policy coordination and strategic options undertaken by another member state.
At the meeting, Hishammuddin also shared Malaysia's measures to combat COVID-19, among others the Movement Control Order (MCO) for the entire country which was announced by Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin on March 16.
He said Malaysia has also implemented Enhanced-MCOs in specific locations where a large cluster is detected to enable the Government to conduct a thorough COVID-19 test towards all residents and curb the spread of the virus out of the areas.