BEFORE the conditional movement control order (CMCO) in early October, my friends who have businesses in retail and food and beverage (F&B) were pretty upbeat about the recovery of their businesses over the period of June to September.
Salaries of employees were restored as sales recovered, some even bringing back workers who were let go of in May. From May to September, minimal Covid-19 cases were reported in Malaysia and consumer confidence was slowly restored to almost the pre-Covid era.
After flattening the curve in May, Malaysians have complied diligently to the SOP set by the Health Ministry (MoH), wearing masks, washing and sanitising their hands and practising safe social distancing. Imported Covid cases were identified at the point of entry and isolated immediately.
We were balancing life safety and economic livelihoods quite well.
Then came the elections in Sabah. According to the MoH, illegal immigrants from the Philippines and Indonesia came in through our porous land and sea borders bringing in the virus which started transmissions among our locals.
Then the campaigning amplified the transmissions and peninsular politicians, helpers and the returning voters who went to Sabah, caught the virus and brought it back to Peninsular Malaysia.
From experience, we know that a total lockdown of the whole country for two months will be the most effective way to flatten the second wave but we also know that a second total lockdown will damage our economy badly to the extent of no recovery.
Due to severe economic consequences, no country in the world will implement another total lockdown. Partial lockdown of certain economic and cultural group gatherings will be implemented from time to time and only when necessary.
Our mortality rate due to Covid-19 is less than 1% and our hospitals are better prepared in terms of equipment, personnel and effective treatments.
Our MySejahtera app, contact tracing and sufficient test kits are also efficiently managed by the MoH. We have in place one of the best medical infrastructures to handle this pandemic. And we also have the most SOP-obedient citizens in the world after Singapore.
Our government has wisely imposed a lockdown in Sabah in a bid to contain further inter-state transmissions, but other than the standard emergency MCO lockdowns in certain villages and housing areas, economic activities have been allowed to continue albeit with some restrictions in place. Prisons and remand centres have seen major clusters but they are contained and manageable.
The strangest decision made by our National Security Council was the special guidelines specifically for the Klang Valley.
Besides implementing CMCO for the Klang Valley which includes Selangor and Kuala Lumpur, additional restrictions were enforced:
> A dining table to sit only two persons in restaurants. This was later changed to four persons.
> Private cars to sit only two persons which is absurd as a family of three to four persons are not allowed to travel together.
> No inter-district travelling in the Klang Valley. This is confusing as the districts are inter-connected by a comprehensive road system with employees going from their homes to offices within the Klang Valley itself.
>Management staff in public and private sector offices restricted to 10% of the staff strength, on limited working hours and only on certain number of days in a week.
But the damage has been done.
The objective of keeping one million management/supervisory staff working from home has resulted in a loss of at least RM15mil daily for food vendors in the Klang Valley, assuming each individual spends RM15 per person on food and drinks during lunch time.
At least 20,000 food stalls, kopitiams and restaurants have seen their daily sales drop by RM500 to RM1,000.
Since the CMCO has been extended for another two weeks ending Nov 9, I urge the government to rethink these guidelines immediately.
They serve no purpose, are not effective in controlling the transmissions and cause too much economic damage to the hawkers and other food vendors.
The private sector is in total disarray, suffering a big loss in productivity due to this directive.
Are they aware that most of the SMEs do not have 10 management staff on their payroll which means that if you follow the guideline of 10% staffing, there will no managers reporting for work everyday!
The private sector has been practising working from home since May.
Most companies have planned for half in, half out work from home schedules and it has settled down quite nicely despite some losses in real productivity.
Most businesses have trimmed their staff strength to conserve cashflow, now these guidelines practically caused many offices to close down for the first two weeks of the CMCO.
This directive also sends the wrong message to the non-managerial staff that it is ok for them to be exposed to the possibility of catching the virus but not their managers.
This directive has done more damage than saving lives.
It is no wonder that no other government in the world has implemented such a policy in the fight to control Covid-19 and in the efforts towards economic recovery.
Our government is well- advised to focus on the macro approach of controlling this pandemic and continue with its successful strategies that have been implemented from March to September.
The business affairs of the private sector are best left to itself. If the politicians had followed the SOPs set by the MoH, we will not be having this second wave.
The citizens are suffering from unemployment, loss of business and going hungry. Even though we are angry, we will still obediently follow the SOPs set by the MoH.
We hope the politicians will follow the rules set by the government too. No double standards please.
Tan Thiam Hock is an entrepreneur. The views expressed here are his own.