M’sians in US say it’s better to stay put

  • Nation
  • Thursday, 26 Mar 2020

Kim Bong

KUALA LUMPUR: With Covid-19 accelerating in the United States, most Malaysians face a tough choice on whether to return home or stay put.

In its latest advisory, the Malaysian embassy in Washington urged Malaysians to consider moving out while it was still possible.

This was aimed mainly at students without viable accommodation due to decisions by their respective universities to vacate their dormitories and Malaysians without comprehensive medical insurance.

The Malaysia Association of America (MAA), based in New York, however, said the “safer option” was for all to remain in the United States as long as the people practise movement control and adhere to the guidelines issued.

“They can easily get infected in the plane and it is a long journey back to Malaysia. Furthermore, the US is preparing to shut off flights completely. We believe that the US has the ability to handle this kind of crisis,” MAA chairman Kim Bong said in New York yesterday.

According to the association’s estimates, there are about 200,000 Malaysians living in the United States, with a huge chunk in the tri-state region of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut

Malaysian students, at the latest count, totalled 7,709.

Kim Bong (pic), who has lived in New York for over three decades, said the MAA was closely monitoring the virus pandemic.

New York is fast developing into the epicentre in the United States with over 20,000 positive cases and 200 over fatalities.

“We are on standby to assist any Malaysian in need,” he said, adding that the MAA was liaising with the Malaysian embassy and also the consulate-general in New York.

Most Malaysians based in the US, he said, worked in restaurants, beauty salons, auto workshops, supermarkets, construction and the import and export trade, with professionals in the finance, accounting, engineering and medical fields.

Kim Bong, who has closed his shipping business and electronics store due to the pandemic, also spoke in support of measures by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo to thwart Covid-19, which he warned was spreading in the state “faster than a bullet train”.

MAA co-chairman Jack Liaw, who runs an accounting business in Flushing in the New York City borough of Queens, said he had never seen New York “so dead”.

“Almost 90% of the businesses are closed. There is no one in the streets as all are worried about Covid-19.

“In the building where my office is located, mine is the only business still open as we have to handle clients’ payroll and personal taxes.

“All my staff members are scared to come to work, so it is left to me and my partners to complete the job,” said Liaw, who left Malaysia for New York in 1986.

Shazwan Abdullah, who is president of the Malaysian Student Association at the Ohio State University in Columbus, said the majority of Malaysian students stayed back despite the complete shutdown of the campus.

“Only about 10 have returned to Malaysia. The vast campus area is more stable and safe, although there could be better medical resources for our students back home,” he added.

Foreign Ministry secretary-general Datuk Seri Shahrul Ikram Yaakob said there were no plans to bring back Malaysian students from the United States.

“But we do have some contingency. It is more practical for them to stay where they are. In our view, the US, compared to other countries, has the capacity to deal with the Covid-19 issue,” he added.

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