Are the right sectors being shut down?


ON Wednesday, the number of new Covid-19 cases in Malaysia surpassed 4,000 for the second time in under a week. I wouldn’t be surprised if we get to more than 8,000 cases a day soon.

Our hopes were high at first when the movement control order was reimposed on Jan 13. However, many of us feel that some of the restrictions introduced in MCO 2.0 are questionable.

First of all, the government should address the elephant in the room by identifying the root cause of this sudden increase in daily cases. For example, most of the recent clusters of cases originated in factories and offices, places where a large number of people were working at the same time.

However, under MCO 2.0 it is non-essential businesses – including clothing stores, gyms, and barber shops – that have to close whereas factories – in sectors including manufacturing, construction, services, trade, distribution, plantations and commodities – are allowed to operate.

Were there any significant clusters in places like clothing stores, gyms and hair salons? I do understand that there have been positive cases in such places but are the numbers significant enough to have contributed to the current huge leap in cases? Will closing these businesses help to flatten the infection curve when most of the present clusters of cases have originated in construction and manufacturing sectors?

In addition, most of the sectors that are closed now are micro businesses and small and medium enterprises (SMEs). Most SMEs and micro businesses have limited cash flow and some can’t even last one month without operating. On the other hand, many of the industries given the green light to operate comprise multinational companies that have even posted profits last year and have the ability to sustain their business even if they are ordered to be closed for months. I do understand that most of the country’s GDP comes from these multinational companies and not from micro businesses and SMEs but closing down small businesses will cause ordinary people – especially those in the B40 (lower income) and M40 (middle income) categories – to suffer more.

I am not saying that lockdowns should not be imposed – in fact, most countries around the globe have imposed some sort of restrictions to curb this third wave of infections. It’s just that all the sacrifices and efforts made by people and SMEs and micro businesses must yield results.

In addition, some sectors, such as automotive, optometrists and self-service laundries, which were prohibited from operating at the beginning of the MCO were allowed to operate again after respected groups or societies requested that the government allow it. By giving the green light to certain businesses that have strong societies, groups and ministries to represent them while keeping closed small and niche businesses that have no representatives or support groups will selectively destroy the livelihoods of people.

I don’t think the current MCO will do much to flatten the curve, which will probably lead to an extension of the MCO period, which will worsen the economy further.

The government should invest in big data analytics, especially by leveraging MySejahtera app data, to target industries that actually need to be closed down because of the risks they pose instead of closing some businesses without proper data analysis or justification.

MATHAN SREETHARAN

Shah Alam

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