Experts: MCO extension without aid may damage livelihood further

‘It might be better to ask what are we doing during MCO in order to better constrain the spread of the virus’


THE extension of the Full Movement Control Order (FMCO) for an unspecified time will do more harm to the people’s livelihood, experts said.

The lockdown is meant to buy time for the healthcare system to allow it to implement other public health measures that will help contain and reduce the spread of Covid-19.

“It is difficult to say whether the current phase of the MCO should be extended or not.

“It might be better to ask what are we doing during the MCO in order to better test, trace and constrain the spread of the virus, and what are the specific and evidence-based targets that need to be achieved before we can exit the MCO?” Monash University Malaysia’s School of Pharmacy lecturer Dr Mark Cheong told The Malaysian Reserve (TMR).

“The answers to these questions may give us an idea of whether `the current phase of MCO should be extended. And if the decision is taken to extend the MCO, there needs to be greater support for the most vulnerable and disadvantaged people in society who will be disproportionately affected,” he added.

“We also have to seriously consider the impact a prolonged MCO will have on the education of children and the Malaysian youth.

“This has to be balanced against the need to ensure that our healthcare system continues to be able to treat every patient infected with Covid-19 and doesn’t collapse due to a surge in the number of cases,” he said.

The Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs CEO Tricia Yeoh said evidently, the small and medium enterprises (SMEs) are at risk of having severe debt, while others would have closed down the businesses.

“This will also have a direct impact on unemployment, where the country is already facing a very high unemployment rate. More broadly, the prolonged lockdown will impact the mental health of Malaysian society.

“Further research is required to investigate the long-term effects of the ‘pandemic fatigue’ that many are facing, caused by the lack of social interaction, including emotional and mental effects that may lead to further issues,” she told TMR.

MCO 3.0 has been extended from June 15 to June 28, 2021, and the government is expected to announce whether it will be continued or not soon.

On whether the current MCO should be extended, Yeoh said the government should make decisions based on data and science.

“The indicators that the government used in its National Recovery Plan are insufficient, and we will need more scientific indicators to move us along from one phase to another.

“Based on the data, this will allow us to have a more targeted approach within areas that have higher and extreme rates of infectivity, and allow them to open up and have less stringent controls,” she added.

She recommended for the vaccination rate to be increased to 300,000 doses per day.

“Parliament should be reconvened to discuss matters pertaining to Covid-19, vaccination and socioeconomic-related matters,” she said.

Echoing the same sentiment, World Bank Group senior economist for macroeconomics, trade and investment Shakira Teh Sharifuddin said the extension would definitely impact the economy and society.

“This will affect vulnerable households that either lose their job, experience loss in income or reduction in earning. (Also for) those in the informal sector who don’t have adequate social protection as well.

“(On) policy suggestion for short term, we suggest the government extend targeted aid and increase amount of stimulus package as previous packages were small and short-term in nature,” she responded to TMR’s question during a virtual media briefing recently.

Malaysian Medical Association president Prof Datuk Dr Subramaniam Muniandy also opined that there is little or no support for the needy and the unemployed during this current lockdown.

“SMEs are suffering. If MCO is extended, there needs to be a structured and mandated programme to provide relief to these groups.

“Some essential sectors are suffering because their supply chains do not fall into the essential category. Rationalisation of the criteria is needed,” he told TMR.

He believes MCO in some form or other is needed for now, but different states may be given flexibility to relax requirements depending on the local situation.