No to total lockdown for economy’s sake

Such containment measures will bring the country to the verge of economic collapse, expert says


THE government should abandon any idea of a total lockdown which is not proven to be useful from a scientific perspective as it can only bring Malaysia to a devastating level of poverty.

Centre for Market Education (CME) CEO Dr Carmello Ferlito said a strengthening of the so-called containment measures would bring Malaysia to the verge of economic collapse.

He said better data analysis and communication, and to allow people to make informed risk assessments and to orient their behaviour is a much more effective way to fight Covid-19 instead of imposing lockdowns.

However, he said such an analysis strategy is yet to be seen in Malaysia. “From an economic perspective, a decision to completely shut down the economy, including manufacturing, can only be driven by a poor understanding of how the economy works.

“The economy, in fact, cannot be divided into independent sectors, on the contrary, it is an intricate web of connections, in particular human interactions,” he said in a statement yesterday.

He said any decision on total lockdown would add to another factitious division between essential and non-essential sectors.

As declared in another statement, CME also reminds the government that each work is essential to the workers to bring food to their tables.

“We need to learn to live with the virus, and the real problem is not to avoid infections in the first place but to focus on prevention and treatments that can reduce, minimise and eventually nullify mortality which is already at a very low level in Malaysia,” Ferlito said.

He added that the country’s hiccup lockdown strategy is creating nervousness in the investor community.

While countries like Indonesia and Vietnam are gaining from foreign direct investments — that are abandoning China — with favourable investment policies, Malaysia seems to be on the way to discourage both domestic and international investment.

Recently, 16 companies from China, Japan and Korea moved to Indonesia and not to Malaysia.

CME is of the opinion that the situation merits some attention as it is aggravated by a confusing political scenario.

Over the weekend, various reports stated that Putrajaya will announce an economic shutdown immediately after Feb 4, should the number of Covid-19 cases keep on increasing.

The source of the reports came from a letter issued by the EU-Malaysia Chamber of Commerce and Industry (Eurocham Malaysia) to its members.

The letter stated that in a meeting between Eurocham Malaysia CEO Sven Schneider and the International Trade and Industry Ministry (MITI) on Jan 22, MITI secretary general Datuk Lokman Hakim Ali informed that the Health Ministry (MoH) has made a clear stand on the matter of a complete shutdown of the economy.

“With 99 Covid-19 clusters related to manufacturing out of more than 300 in the whole country, MoH believes that the manufacturing sector is the main source of infections.

“Construction was also mentioned, but since it is not under the purview of MITI, we did not discuss the sector in detail. Should the infection rate not decrease, the Malaysian government will announce a shutdown/strict lockdown immediately after Feb 4,” it said.

It added that MITI is appealing to all companies, foreign and local, to join the effort in reducing infections, breaking the chain, to keep the economy open for business.

MITI stated that one of the preliminary outcomes from the meeting is that companies are to assign at least one human resources personnel to manage and coordinate workers staying in dormitories to minimise community movement, social activities and thereby compliance with the standard operating procedures (SOPs).

Malaysia’s Covid-19 infections now stand at a critical level with over 3,000 cases reported daily.

MoH has warned that the health system is at a breaking point due to the overwhelming active cases and the current infectivity rate or R-Naught must be brought down.

The Federation of Malaysian Manufacturers (FMM) CEO Dr Yeoh Oon Tean said FMM strongly believes that it is important for the current infections and clusters to be managed effectively so that the chain of infections can be broken swiftly.

“The economy and the business sector would not be able to take another round of total lockdown similar to the Movement Control Order in March last year that would have a devastating impact on business survival and security of jobs.

“As such, we urge members to do our part by taking additional proactive and preventive measures to tighten the existing SOPs at our workplaces and the living quarters of employees,” he said in a recent statement to FMM members.

Additional measures recommended include employers to provide greater attention to the living conditions for all workers and ensure they comply with strict SOPs. This would also include imposing the same requirements on the living conditions of subcontract workers.

“Comply with the government’s directive for all foreign workers to be Covid-19 screened and endeavour to get this concluded soonest possible by the deadline set by the government,” he added.