Hang in there, Penangites!

Swettenham Pier Cruise Terminal is expected to rebound once its RM155mil expansion is completed at the end of the year.

JUST when we thought 2021 would have more of the same things we had in 2020, things got worse.

There was the declaration of Emergency.

And then there is the four-figure daily Covid-19 cases.

Did you know that the MySejahtera app in your smartphone will tell you how many Covid-19 cases are detected within 1km from your location in the last 14 days?

Call up the app. Tap the Close button on the top right of the default Check-in page. Then tap the Hotspot button. Key in the name of your street or apartment building and you will then be told how many cases were found around you in the last two weeks.

Eighteen cases were reported in a 1km range around my home in the last 14 days.

Unless you live in the hinterlands, chances are you will see at least double-digit cases around your home ground.

That is how serious it is now.

Penang is facing one of its greatest challenges because our economic mainstays

– manufacturing and services – are being bludgeoned by the pandemic.

Tourism has come to a complete halt.

Mukim 12 in the southwest district and Mukim 13 in the northeast district, where many factory workers stay, are recording a high number of confirmed cases every single day since last November, putting factories in a tight spot.

But I am one to search for that silver lining before giving in to despair.

Penang has been down this road before, a downturn that is part of the cycle in the manufacturing sector that declines every 10 years, on average.

The last one happened when the world economy took a hit during the subprime crisis in the United States from 2008 to 2009, with banks folding and businesses closing down.

Central banks of governments all over the world pumped in massive amounts of money into their economies.

Penang should be given credit as it was the first state to come out with a Covid-19 economic stimulus package of RM75mil last March, followed by RM76mil last May and RM20mil more recently.

It still won’t be easy as these stimulus packages are akin to jump-starting a car when the battery is dead. You still need a new battery.

Major projects like the components of Penang Transport Master Plan, including Bayan Lepas Light Rail Transit, Pan Island Link 1 and Penang South Reclamation must move, with or without federal help.

Tenders must be called and projects must be awarded to get the economic cycle churning again.

All said, Penang is in a better position compared to some other states as we have a strong manufacturing base, with the highest approved foreign direct investment in 2020, during a pandemic year.

This state is the only one with cruise and container terminals, the performances of which are barometers of the health of Penang’s economy.

While North Butterworth Container Terminal has weathered the effects of the pandemic well, Swettenham Pier Cruise Terminal (SPCT) was badly hit by the ban on cruise ship arrivals.

But SPCT will be in the right position when its RM155mil expansion is completed at the end of the year.

When cruise ships can berth again, SPCT will bounce right back.

For now, at least two big cruise companies are poised to begin local cruises or “cruises to nowhere” that will bring back the hustle and bustle at SPCT.

Our tourism sector, a major money earner, is suffering immensely.

But when interstate travel was allowed last month, you should have seen how many domestic travellers came flocking back to Penang.

The beach hotels in Batu Ferringhi recorded three-figure room occupancy on weekends and rushed to hire casual workers to cope with the strain of maintaining their level of four or five-star services.

I have no doubt that as soon as we flatten the infection curve and domestic travel is allowed again, visitors will return here.

Penang just has to be patient for now.

The state coffers have a reserve of RM1.15bil as of end-2019, a comfortable figure for a tiny state, which is testament to a well-managed economy.

Although a lot of work needs to be done, rising again may not be such a herculean task for the Pearl of the Orient.

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