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The Coronavirus Threat: A Malaysian Perspective | Vimala Suppiah | #LetsResetNormal

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Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia 

“Renewal requires opening yourself up to new ways of thinking and feeling.”

― Deborah Day

It was a social call. An evening visiting my sister. My nephew Deva read out from his mobile phone about a virus spreading in China. It sounded like fake news and I said, “It’s fake news, Deva.” He continued to read from his phone and said, “It’s in a place called Wuhan, in China.” That’s how I heard about Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19), a virus with a crown.

As the news of this virus played out on social media, Malaysia as a nation was gridlocked by another kind of a home-grown malaise, a political turmoil of betrayal and losing trust with the politicians. On 24 February 2020, Malaysians woke up to the news of the unexpected resignation of its 94-year-old interim Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, upending the country’s politics following the 2018 election. And as this piece of news broke and the nation went into a state of shock, fear, blame and anger leading to panic buying, a gathering of religious worshippers of 16,000 people assembled in a mosque in Kuala Lumpur from 27 February to 1 March. As a 34-year-old Malaysian man who attended the event died on 17 March, the first death linked to the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19), that event became the source of many infections spanning Southeast Asia as there were over 1,600 foreigners from parts of Southeast Asia at this gathering. 

The Malaysian Ministry of Health estimated that out of the 673 confirmed coronavirus cases, nearly two thirds are linked to the four-day event. Currently the numbers of confirmed cases are rising and the restricted movement curfew of people is extended to two more weeks until 14 April with borders shut and schools, universities, religious places of worship and most businesses closed, in an attempt to control the outbreak.

Against this backdrop, workshops I had planned with my partners began to get postponed. Trainers, coaches and facilitators were sharing that clients were cancelling meetings and work, and sharing the impact on their income stream. As for me, the face-to-face coaching work completely dried up as we were all preparing for socially isolating and started talking about working from home. On a personal note, working from home was not an issue but what began to emerge is a very obvious change in my energy levels as I was not used to spending so much time at home. I missed the routine of not having to go out and do my coaching work and coming home feeling I had been productive!

Upon reflecting the lessons learnt, a number of issues have surfaced for me and I share it under the headings of: The Bigger Picture, Family and Friends, My Clients and Work, A Personal Note with What is the “After”?

The Bigger Picture: In a time of crisis we expect our political leaders to handle it. We expect transparent and clear communication with a clear understanding of what should be done with a strategy. In Malaysia and due to the political crisis, leadership was absent until the number of cases testing positive began to rise rapidly. As for leaders in business, everyone froze “like a deer caught in the headlights”. 

Family and Friends: It was about connections and keeping the communication channels open. My family with sisters, brothers-in-law, nieces, nephews, grandchildren talk and post in our family WhatsApp group and we have regular Zoom chats. Being present for each other in a collectiveness was nourishing.

My Clients and Work: The year started well with a planned workshop on Digital Talents with business partners and my own company was planning a panel discussion with invited industry leaders on the topic, Leading Across Generations. As word spread of cancellations and postponements, the face-to-face coaching work ceased. However, with the Global European Mentoring and Coaching Council, a Solidarity Coaching Project is taking shape in Nigeria in partnership with an NGO. Lesson learnt is to reconnect, renew and stay focused.

Personal note on ‘What is the “After”?’. Looking at how our political and business leaders are never prepared for a crisis, it is imperative for the coaches and coaching bodies to be the beacon to develop new reimagined ways to cope with the “After”.

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