PETALING JAYA: The government has bumped up the Health Ministry’s arsenal to fight Covid-19 through an additional allocation of RM200mil to procure more supplies such as reagents, screening kits and personal protective equipment (PPE) for healthcare frontliners.
The amount, in addition to the RM800mil already provided through the Malaysian Economic and Rakyat’s Protection Assistance Package (Permai) package announced in January, brings the total allocation to RM1bil.
During a virtual media briefing yesterday, Finance Minister Tengku Datuk Seri Zafrul Aziz said: “The government is ready to increase the allocation further if the need arises.”
He said the additional allocation was necessary as the ministry ramped up its efforts to battle the worsening rate of infection.
“From the RM800mil initially allocated, about RM318mil have been used up until last month, ” said Tengku Zafrul.
Commenting on the government’s decision to introduce stricter movement control order measures instead of a full lockdown, he said it was necessary to find a balance between life and the well-being of the rakyat.
A full lockdown would derail the country’s ongoing economic recovery, he said.
“If the economic sectors are closed now, the number of unemployed people would increase to over a million, higher than what we experienced under last year’s MCO.
“In May 2020, unemployment hit 826,000 people or 5.3% of the total workforce, ” he said.
Earlier, various industry groups, including business chambers and manufacturers, had urged the government not to impose a full lockdown as they feared that more businesses would be crippled financially.
Tengku Zafrul also argued that the stricter measures would effectively reduce pressure on the public healthcare system that had already been inundated with skyrocketing Covid-19 cases.
“We need to keep the economy open to ensure that the livelihood of Malaysians is taken care of, ” he said.
Prior to Tengku Zafrul’s briefing yesterday, Senior Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob announced that almsot seven million workers from the public and private sectors would have to work from home.
Businesses can only operate from 8am to 8pm, beginning Tuesday. Passenger capacity on public transports will be cut to 50%.
These restrictions will apply to Peninsular Malaysia and Labuan.
Tengku Zafrul said the second round of MCO from Jan 13 to Feb 18 this year was equally effective as the first MCO last year in reducing cases.
In comparison to the first round, MCO 2.0 had lesser negative implications on the economy and households.
“Under MCO 1.0, the economy lost about RM2.4bil a day compared to only RM300mil to RM400mil under MCO 2.0, ” he said.
He also pointed out that 68% of businesses reported zero sales or revenue during the MCO 1.0 period based on a survey conducted by the Statistics Department.
About 2.8 million high-risk informal sector workers lost their jobs last year due to movement restrictions.
“Hence, the MCO 3.0 measures are a win-win solution for all, ” Tengku Zafrul said.
“While the newly announced movement restrictions under MCO 3.0 are deemed less detrimental, they could still impact the economy by roughly up to one per cent of the monthly gross domestic product.”
Nevertheless, he said various targeted initiatives announced under previous stimulus packages, especially the more recent Permai and Pemerkasa plans, would continue to help affected individuals and businesses.
These include cash handouts via Bantuan Prihatin Rakyat, wage subsidy, targeted loan repayment assistance and Bank Negara’s financing for small and medium enterprises.
“We will see how long this crisis continues. If there is a need, then we will have to look at supporting (the economy) from a very targeted approach to the industries that are most affected by the Covid-19 pandemic, ” he said.