Malaysia can’t afford another lockdown


AT 293 new positive Covid-19 cases and a total of 1,961 active cases as of yesterday, Malaysians must be more vigilant in their daily routine and adhere closely to the standard operating procedures (SOPs), as the country could not afford another nationwide lockdown.

Pantai Hospital Kuala Lumpur respiratory physician Dr Helmy Haja Mydin said another lockdown will put a dent on the country’s economic activity.

“I do not think we can easily afford another national lockdown given the severe socioeconomic impact, especially with the moratorium ending.

“A more localised or regional lockdown with strict restrictions on travel will be preferable. The decisions concerning these matters need to be made based on real-time data, with quick and thorough enforcement,” he told The Malaysian Reserve (TMR) in a recent phone interview.

However, according to MIDF Amanah Investment Bank Bhd (MIDF Research), even a Targeted Enhanced Movement Control Order (TEMCO) for the Klang Valley alone — the country’s largest and most productive conurbation — would alter the trajectory of Malaysia’s economic recovery in a negative way.

Based on the economic size, Selangor, Kuala Lumpur and Putrajaya contribute approximately 40% of Malaysia’s GDP.

“If the TEMCO implemented in the Klang Valley lasted up to one month, we estimated the impact to Malaysia’s economy could reach to RM28.8 billion in output loss (or -1.9% of GDP) from the fall in aggregate demand.

“In other words, a month-long TEMCO in the Klang Valley will cause the contraction in Malaysia’s economic growth this year to be even worse, with GDP estimated to contract at a steeper pace of -6.7% (versus our current projection of -4.8%).

“The estimates are calculated based on the assumption that the TEMCO in the Klang Valley is going to be as strict as the MCO during the first wave of Covid-19 outbreak,” the firm said.

Dr Helmy said there should also be consistency in messaging and enforcement of policies irrespective of background, so that the public understands the importance of adhering to rules and regulations.

He added that the government must work towards a more agile form of intervention, whereby cases are picked up early and quickly, which will lead to appropriate interventions.

“A good balance between public health priorities and socioeconomic needs will result in an equilibrium that allows society to function in as safe a manner as possible.

“The economic engine will only start moving once health concerns have been addressed. Without economic movement, there will be increased levels of poverty which will affect health and healthcare delivery,” he added.

Dr Helmy cautioned that Malaysia should be ready for the possibility of a spike in Covid-19 cases over the next two to three months, given that the government has only just implemented restrictions and the just-ended Sabah state election.

“We need to brace ourselves for the likelihood of a significant increase in the number of cases and clusters, both in Sabah and the peninsula, over the next couple of weeks,” he noted.

With the rising number of Covid-19 cases in the country, many Internet users have also expressed concerns over the possibility of another lockdown.

Terms and hashtags such as “MCO 2.0” and “PKP 2.0” have been trending on Twitter in the past few days as Malaysians are anticipating a second round of MCO.

The discussion brought up the significant issue of whether the emphasis should be on ensuring the public’s health and force a subsequent lockdown, or should the attention be given to people’s livelihoods, as the first round of MCO had caused many to struggle financially.

Nevertheless, many Malaysians agreed that they would not be able to go through another round of lockdown, citing the financial difficulties they had faced in the previous lockdown.

Meanwhile, Osel Group medical director and chief clinical scientist Dr Kris See also does not foresee another round of MCO, as the country would not be able to bear it.

He added that the economic burden is already taxing the nation’s resources and setback years of efforts in narrowing the income gap.

“From a public health perspective, I would think the authorities must enforce perhaps a strict and firm border control on affected states and regions, while proceeding with contact tracing and strict SOPs.

“Limiting the current spread is paramount in achieving successful control,” he told TMR in a text reply yesterday.

He also said the government should have enforced border control at a much earlier stage during the outbreak of cases in Sabah.

As most of the clusters of cases originated from Sabah, he noted that the authorities must consider reintroducing Sabah interstate travel restrictions to limit its spread.

The spike in cases continues even after polls wrapped up in Sabah, with many politicians now testing positive for the virus upon their return.

Additionally, the recent wave of Covid-19 cases had also affected at least four major shopping malls in the Klang Valley, namely Nu Sentral Mall, KL Gateway Mall, Sunway Pyramid Mall and Suria KLCC.

With that, complaints from netizens have been pouring on social media over the Hotspot Tracker’s feature on the MySejahtera app which continued to show no cases in the past 28 days within a 1km radius.

MySejahtera app, in a statement reported by Bernama, said the location considered to be a Covid-19 hotspot was based on in-depth investigation by the Ministry of Health (MoH) on the definite and possible source of infection.

The app added that everything is based on facts and science, and as such, the above-mentioned malls were not the source or the potential source of Covid-19 infection.

As it is, the authorities had imposed the TEMCO on four districts in the east coast of Sabah, namely Lahad Datu, Tawau, Kunak and Semporna from Sept 28 until Oct 12.

The MoH had insisted all Sabah returnees to undergo the 14-day mandatory quarantine, although they tested negative or did not show any symptoms of the illness.

The ministry is also carrying out active case and close contact detection, disinfection processes in locations affected by Covid-19, screening at domestic and international doors, and expanding the screening for high-risk communities and groups.

The MoH has also mobilised health frontliners to the red zones in Sabah, while increasing the number of beds in hospitals and quarantine centres, as well as the capacity of medical laboratories.

MIDF Research stated that weaker economic activities will also potentially result in another round of rationalisation as companies will struggle financially to maintain their business operations.

“The MCO earlier this year had caused the unemployment rate to increase from 3.3% in February 2020 to as high as 5.3% in May 2020.

“Based on the official labour market data from the Department of Statistics Malaysia, total employment fell by 456,600 during the period, of which, one-third decided to leave the labour force and the balance two-thirds or 300,900 contributed to the increase in the number of unemployed persons as they continue to search for different jobs opportunities.

“If the TEMCO in the Klang Valley causes around 100,000 workers to lose their jobs as businesses struggle to maintain payrolls, this could result in the unemployment rate to increase to as high as 5.4% from the latest 4.7% in July 2020,” the firm said.

Meanwhile, other sectors which had benefitted from the recent rise in domestic tourism, such as restaurants and accommodation services, will once again be hit by the travel restrictions and prohibition to accept dine-in customers.

“Although domestic consumption is expected to weaken because of TEMCO, the option to place orders online and the availability of home delivery will continue to contribute towards growth for the local consumption spending.

“Non-essential businesses, such as recreational services, and entertainment and leisure, will be hit by another round of closures and lower demand,” MIDF Research said.