On 20 May — the same day Malaysia's MICE leaders gathered virtually to discuss the feasibility of restarting business events with vaccine passports — the country announced a record 6,806 new Covid-19 cases and 59 deaths, bringing about a fresh conundrum for the industry.
The webinar last Thursday titled. 'Covid-19 vaccines & Safe Business Events. Can It Work?' was co-organised by the Malaysian Association of Convention and Exhibition Organisers and Suppliers (MACEOS) and Malaysia Convention and Exhibition Bureau (MyCEB). The aim was to address concerns about slow vaccine take up, efficacy and immunity, as well as the possibility of restarting the MICE sector with vaccine passports.
To date, just 10.36 million of Malaysia’s 32.7 million population have registered for the Covid-19 vaccination programme. To reach herd immunity, the target is 80% of the population and so far 39.6% have expressed interest.
Actual numbers show just 3.16% of targeted Malaysians have been fully vaccinated and 5.07% have received a single dose.
“We need our MICE sector to be vaccinated so that we can plan our programmes and schedules easily. Our business [is all in the future] and we need to bid. We have to give confidence to [organisations] to come — and show that we are prioritising our industry and the players, much like what the UAE has done,” said MyCEB CEO Abdul Khani Daud.
He added that he had sent a letter to the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation (in charge of coordinating the vaccination programme) to give priority to the MICE industry as event stakeholders are “economic frontliners” and part of the tourism sector that was the country’s second top revenue earner.
Abdul Khani also said he's writing to the Ministry of Trade and Industry for the MICE sector to be given special status for a new vaccination programme the ministry is proposing for its umbrella of industries.
The Selangor state government had also announced a plan to offer vaccines to SMEs in the state at RM380 (US$91.75) for two doses. Abdul Khani noted he had contacted this group as well, and urged the 3.5 million workforce involved in the extended MICE sector to get themselves vaccinated at the earliest opportunity.
Both Abdul Khani and webinar moderator Dee Dee Quah, vice president (conference) of MACEOS, expressed optimism about the prospects for 2022, adding that from January to April this year they had already won 13 bids for events starting next year — in addition to the 16 bids won in 2020 for events up till 2026.
Another speaker, Professor Zulkifli Ismail, a consultant paediatrician/ paediatric cardiologist was at hand to address concerns from the 485 attendees with regards to vaccines, with an emphasis on immunity and protection. The professor noted the slow rate of vaccination in Malaysia was mainly one of inadequate supply and reiterated that strictly following SOPs is another effective method to fight against infection.
He emphasised that many countries with higher vaccination rates are showing much lower numbers of infections and fatalities. The professor, who is also chairman of a vaccination advocacy and public education group, pointed to an "infodemic" challenge — where conspiracy theories and fake news are undermining efforts.
As for vaccine passports, Abdul Khani explained that these certificates would enable organisers to track attendees' status, thus opening the path for holding in-person events again.
He also pointed out that the EU and the US are already in talks to enable reciprocal travel for those vaccinated. Meanwhile, on the local front, he said Malaysia and Singapore have also held discussions about opening a quarantine-free travel bubble.