PETALING JAYA: The notion that the economy can be revived instantly after a lockdown has no basis in reality, says Senior Minister Datuk Seri Azmin Ali.
He says the economy does not run on a "switch off-switch on" mode, as the Covid-19 pandemic enters its second year in Malaysia.
The International Trade and Industry (Miti) Minister said that as Malaysia is a global supplier in personal protection equipment (PPE) and gloves, an economic shutdown would affect millions of livelihoods.
He added that suggestions to re-impose an economic lockdown should be the very last resort.
He also said that the government's main objective is to keep people safe from Covid-19 while maintaining their livelihoods.
"When the movement control order was first introduced in March last year, the overarching priority was to strike a balance between protecting lives and livelihoods.
"The imperative of protecting public health has always remained paramount in as much as it is crucial that the economic well-being of the people is safeguarded.
"Miti was entrusted to coordinate the list of essential economic activities that were allowed to operate.
"This proved to be a major challenge on account of the fact that the economic value chain is deeply interlinked and highly complex.
"As Malaysia is an important player in the global supply chain, it was incumbent on us to ensure minimal disruption to the supplies of essential products such as rubber gloves, PPE, parts and components for medical devices.
"Above all, the government has to ensure that the people’s livelihoods are secured," said Azmin in a statement on Monday (Jan 25).
He said that constant engagements with all stakeholders of the economy especially industry associations and trade chambers assisted Miti in making such decisions.
"It bears repeating that in our efforts at fighting this pandemic, a host of unintended economic consequences were unleashed, not the least of which is the debilitating impact on the country’s gross domestic product (GDP).
"In the second quarter of 2020, Malaysia’s GDP suffered its worst-ever decline in our history, namely, a contraction to -17.1%.
"Consequently, the government took the initiative to pump in a massive RM320bil of stimulus packages not just to mitigate the adverse economic impact on the rakyat, but also to jumpstart and revitalise the entire economy.
"By the third quarter of 2020, we managed to bring down the decline in growth to -2.7%.
"While this definitely manifests the effectiveness of the stimulus packages, it should be borne in mind that it would still take at least another quarter, if not more, before the economy could see actual positive growth.
"This underscores the fact that despite the best efforts at economic recovery, it would take an extended period of time before the economy can actually pick up to show positive growth after the lifting of the MCO.
"In this regard, recent calls to re-impose total lockdown in order to deal with the massive spikes in the number of infections attendant on this third wave must be viewed along with other suggestions concerning alternative strategies and options," said Azmin.
He suggested that SOPs be tightened and introduction of clear guidance on geospatial planning such as quantifying indoor settings at any given time.
He further proposed more targeted testing as well as regulating costs of RTK-Antigen test kits to make them affordable for mass screening in industries.
"The call is for businesses to open on the condition precedent of full compliance with stricter SOPs.
"One loss in income affects the whole household. In practical terms, the loss of income for one breadwinner may well adversely affect the livelihoods of at least four persons in a family.
"Public-Private-Rakyat synergy is an invaluable value proposition for nation-building and should be embraced by all," said Azmin who also paid tribute to all security and medical frontliners.
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