A balance needed between Covid-19 battle and impending recession

by ALIFAH ZAINUDDIN/ pic by ARIF KARTONO

THE government will have to strike a critical balance between preventive health measures and plans to tackle the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic as recession fears loom.

Senior Minister and also Defence Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob yesterday announced the set-up of a special Cabinet committee which will develop strategic measures to shield Malaysia’s trade-reliant economy and its labour market as the country weathers an extended Movement Control Order (MCO) period.

“The government is fully aware of the struggles faced by the business community. We know many are staring at huge losses from shutdowns under the MCO. But at the same time, it is our responsibility to make sure that Covid-19 is fully contained. We want people to be safe from this virus.

“However, there is a need to strike a balance between health and economic measures. The new committee will look into new ways to assist industries affected by Covid-19,” Ismail Sabri told reporters at a briefing yesterday.

The committee will be co-chaired by Ismail Sabri and Senior Minister Datuk Seri Mohamed Azmin Ali. The public health crisis has come at the expense of the country’s economic health.

Many businesses have been forced to close shop, while those allowed to operate are not running at full capacity. As businesses take hits to their income stream, many workers are facing the prospect of getting laid off.

The World Bank Group had recently warned that Malaysia’s economy would shrink this year for the first time in more than a decade. Its latest assessment said the country’s economy will contract -0.1% in 2020 from an earlier forecast of 4.5% growth.

Its lead economist Dr Richard Record said a worst-case scenario will see the pandemic spilling over into 2021. Total recovery could be expected in 2022, he added.

Malaysia has since announced stricter measures under phase two of the MCO including shorter operating hours for grocery outlets, restaurants, food delivery services and petrol stations.

The partial lockdown is expected to end on April 14. Ismail Sabri said 562 individuals were arrested on Wednesday for opposing restrictions aimed at containing the spread of Covid-19.

This brought the total number of arrests to 4,189 people since the movement curbs were imposed on March 18. A total of 1,449 individuals have been charged in court to date. The government will also impose a mandatory 14-day quarantine on incoming travellers across all entry points, effective today.

All travellers, both local and international, will serve the two-week quarantine period at designated facilities. This comes after global coronavirus cases top 930,000 and deaths at over 47,200 worldwide.

Disinfection efforts will continue to take place in 348 critical areas. A total of 252 areas have been sprayed with disinfectant so far, including 93 on Wednesday, Ismail Sabri said. The sanitation process is conducted according to procedural guidelines set out by the Ministry of Health, he added.