How Malaysia Is Tackling COVID-19

An interview with Dr. Sheena Kaur on resilience during the pandemic.

Posted Sep 19, 2020

Sheena Kaur, used with permission
Source: Sheena Kaur, used with permission

Every country has been affected by COVID-19, but not every country has been equally successful at containing it. Dr. Sheena Kaur shares how Malaysia has been handling the pandemic and how we can be more resilient throughout it. 

Dr. Sheena Kaur is a Senior Lecturer at the English Department, Faculty of Languages and Linguistics, University of Malaya. She has been attached to the University for the past 27 years, where she served as the Deputy Director of International Relations Office, being involved in the university’s internationalization initiatives. She obtained her Ph.D. in Applied Linguistics from Lancaster University.

Her research interests include linguistics, higher education, and recently, COVID-19 from the humanities perspectives while being on a
"locked-down" sabbatical for the past 9 months. Dr. Kaur has presented at many international conferences and has several interesting publications.

Jamie Aten: How would you personally describe the COVID-19 situation in Malaysia?        

Sheena Kaur: The COVID-19 situation in Malaysia is under control, as reported by the Ministry of Health. Malaysia, with its robust medical infrastructure, is known as one of the most successful countries in the world managing its COVID-19 situation. The virus was first detected in the country in January from travelers entering the country through Singapore. The first two deaths occurred on March 17, 2020. After 5 months, Malaysia recorded 125 deaths from COVID-19 with a death rate of 1.36 percent as of August 16, 2020.

The government implemented a lockdown known as the Movement Control Order (MCO) in several phases immediately after the first COVID-19 deaths occurred and imposed drastic restrictions. This was followed by the Conditional MCO, which gradually reduced the restrictions. We then entered the Recovery MCO phase until August 31, where almost all social, educational, religious, business activities reopened with standard SOPs.

Interstate travel is allowed, while borders still remain closed. People entering Malaysia from overseas will have to undergo mandatory quarantine at hotels or centers because home quarantine was found not so effective. The current challenge for the government is a new, mutated COVID-19 strain recently detected in Malaysia and supposed to be much more infectious.

JA: What are some ways that understanding Malaysia's COVID-19 situation can help us live more resiliently?

SK: In Malaysia, the COVID-19 situation has made us stronger as a nation to break the chain of the virus together. We understand that the country has kept infections and deaths relatively low, making it more resilient than other countries. In order to live more resiliently in Malaysia, we have to embrace the new normal under the Recovery MCO phase.

Firstly, wearing masks, washing our hands regularly, practicing safe social distancing, and avoiding large gatherings should be part of our daily lives. Secondly, we should rethink our expenditure habits and demands for imported consumer goods. Third, we have to be prepared for further job losses as a consequence of related service sectors that have been impacted. Fourth, to further strengthen family ties, we need to make use of interstate travel bans that have been lifted and cheap travel deals offered to boost the local economy.

Next, we need to be aware of the increased mental health stresses and provide support to families, friends, and vulnerable groups. Finally, we need to embrace the digital economy that is transforming our lives and providing opportunities for further connectivity. We are also experiencing disruption to education and the development of online learning in schools, colleges, and universities.

JA: What are some ways people can cultivate resilience amidst this pandemic?

SK: Most segments of the population are affected during this pandemic. The challenges ahead of us are unprecedented, so we must build our resilience through the emotional roller coaster rides. There are several ways we can cultivate resilience by developing new or existing coping strategies. I shall divide them into social, physical, and emotional coping strategies.

First of all, we need to have a support network of close friends and relatives whom we care about, or build deeper relationships with people we don’t know very well. Technology and social media can help us do this. Volunteering to help the vulnerable groups will also make us happy.

Physically, we need to take care of our physical wellness by exercising, having enough rest and sleep, eating well, drinking sufficient water, and engaging in stimulating activities. We can take up a hobby that will help us spend our time creatively and wisely, like gardening, painting, learning a new language, or enrolling in an online course.

Emotionally, we should manage our feelings, emotions, and not drown in negativity. Practice mindfulness, and seek professional help if need be. We should perhaps start building resilience among our children and youths as well, in order to teach them to cope with the challenges of the pandemic.

JA: Any advice for how we might use what you have learned to support a friend or loved one struggling with a difficult life situation?

SK: We live in unsettling times, and we need to remember that different people are affected by the pandemic in different ways. We can be supportive of our friends or loved ones by not dismissing their feelings and offering emotional support. We need to volunteer our time and be compassionate and empathetic. Create feelings of connectedness by being a warm and comforting support. This can be done in a number of ways, such as face-to-face, video, phone, or text.

Make sure your friends or loved ones feel less alone. We can suggest practicing complementary therapy like mindfulness and meditation that can help them relax. There are also many helplines and resources that we can reach out to for help. In Malaysia, helplines have been set up by several governmental and non-governmental agencies that offer professional help, counseling services, and psychosocial and emotional support.

If our friends are struggling with finances, we can support them by getting them groceries or having it delivered to them with the many online delivery services available. We can provide our friends with information, resources, and links found on websites that one can navigate on how to deal with the situation. Limiting media news can also reduce anxiety, as excessive news and visuals can create unnecessary panic.

JA: What are you currently working on that you might like to share about?

SK: I am currently working on COVID-19 related research in the humanities and social sciences. The current state of COVID-19 research very much focuses on the sciences, and there is a lack of studies in the field of humanities. As we know, the pandemic has changed the educational landscape globally, and most significantly impacted higher education and international students studying in Malaysia. Understandably, the impact on international students is great, affecting their decisions about their study plans, educational learning experiences, and their adaptations to the crisis situation in the host country.

In my research with a team, I will examine the international students’ experiences in coping with the pandemic outbreak, the challenges they faced, how these have impacted their lives and learning experiences, and what solutions can be adapted to help them overcome their challenges. This is a comparative study comparing students from private and public universities. We hope to disseminate our findings to the respective universities and also to publish them in relevant refereed journals.


Kaur, S. (2020). The coronavirus pandemic in Malaysia: A commentary. Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy, 12(5), 482-484.