Govt aid vital to survive lockdowns

The economy is expected to endure a loss in GDP of about RM265m per day or RM92b per year, says economist


MALAYSIA will be able to survive another lockdown, but it will be heavily dependent on the duration of the period and the government’s assistance to withstand the economic impact.

Economist Dr Jamal Othman said the economy is expected to endure a loss in GDP of about RM265 million per day or RM92 billion per year without adequate government support packages for a four-week lockdown period, similar to the first Movement Control Order (MCO 1.0).

“This translates into a job loss equivalent to one million, hence the government’s intervention and assistance are paramount to prevent such deterioration. It is hard to go to pre-pandemic 2019 GDP level, especially now with MCO 3.0 and lockdown currently imposed.

“However, with the government stimulus package, recovery of the global economy, if the lockdown is not going to be four weeks, I’m sure we can see a positive figure,” he said in a webinar titled ‘Can we survive another lockdown?’.

The government announced an extension to the total lockdown by another two weeks, until June 28, as the Covid-19 cases remain high without significant reduction.

From a macro and aggregate perspective, Jamal believes that new job creation is possible only if the economy manages to reach pre-pandemic level, like in 2019.

“Otherwise, we can only just pick up old jobs and old workers back to work due to the pandemic’s economic fallout,” he added.

SME Association of Malaysia national VP Chin Chee Seong, however, said the issue plaguing the nation is the mismatch of jobs.

“Small and medium enterprises need a lot of people to work, but sometimes we can’t find the right person to work. Mismatch between what the graduate has with what we need.

“Graduates are also in a ‘wait and see’ mode. Majority of their parents can afford to give them time to stay at home without having to find their own income. So, they don’t rush to find a job,” he said.

Chin believes the unemployed should start making use of the government’s initiative, such as MyFutureJob, in order to pare down the unemployment rate.

Besides the impact on the economy, Covid-19 affected the lives and livelihoods of millions of people in Malaysia. Distress calls statistics received by government agencies from March 25, 2020, to May 20 this year revealed that 85.5% of the calls were related to mental health issues that require emotional support and counselling.

The statistics were revealed through the Psychosocial Support Helpline established in collaboration with the Ministry of Health and Mercy Malaysia, as well as the helplines from other government agencies.

Mercy Malaysia mental health and social support services consultant Dr Hariyati Shahrima Abdul Majid said the helpline received, in general, about 70 to 80 calls daily (plus WhatsApp) messages this past month.

“The common issues now are different from those we received during MCO 1.0. Now mostly on their worries about the new variants, quarantine and vaccination. And the occasional calls of grief over loved ones.

“Previously, it was about uncertainties about health and the virus, access to aid and healthcare, loss of jobs and livelihoods,” she said.

Dr Hariyati said everyone needs to play a role to remove the stigma of mental health.

“We need to make it more accessible. We need to normalise conversations on mental health. We need to invest more on primary prevention programmes on top of treatments of mental illness.

Solace Asia and Sanctuary Addiction Retreat CEO and clinical director Dr Prem Kumar Shanmugam said a lockdown that resulted in isolation affects mental health and causes an addiction.

“People become more addicted to the Internet and health anxiety during Covid-19. MCO and isolating from people itself complicate the process of recovery.

“Now, we are also seeing behavioural addiction on the rise. Addiction towards drugs, alcohol, sex and game is on the rise,” he added.