Trade coalition pleads for MCO to be lifted

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A coalition of trade, business and professional associations call on government to lift MCO, claiming people may end up dying of starvation rather than Covid-19.

A coalition of more than 40 trade, business and professional associations has expressed regret over the government’s decision to extend the movement control order (MCO) for another two weeks.

In a joint statement today, the coalition, Industries Unite, said the second MCO would kill businesses and leave many jobless and poverty-stricken.

In view of this, its legal adviser David Gurupatham and coordinator Irwin Cheong urged the government to lift the restriction order.

“While public health and safety are of paramount importance, we expect to see the death rate for businesses to spike over this period.

“The unemployment rate will also rise as well. This inevitably will put further stress on the economy and vital supply chains.

“Thousands of retail outlets have closed down since MCO 2.0. With its extension again, a majority of our members may never be able to recover.

“Any possible recovery is further hindered by the lack of a clear path forward,” they said.

Ahmad Zamzahuri

Ethnic Chinese are due to celebrate the Lunar New Year on February 12 and the annual celebration, one of the country’s biggest, is often the time businesses and trade push for sales, but the MCO extension means profit margins are unlikely to hit pre-pandemic levels.

Yesterday, Senior Minister, Ismail Sabri said the government will tighten restrictions for the extended MCO, citing lax compliance as the main cause for the surge in Covid-19 cases over the last month. Daily transmission rates have stayed above 3,000 for more than two weeks, with the highest reaching nearly 6,000.

Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, at the onset of the current MCO last month, unveiled additional stimulus worth RM15 billion but less than a tenth of it accounts for direct assistance.

Businesses warned that without adequate help and a clear medium-term plan to rein in the coronavirus, more businesses will shutter or be forced to lay off workers.

“The main issue to be addressed is a structured recovery plan with emphasis on stricter compliance with standard operating procedures (SOPs) through education, community engagement and encouragement.”

The coalition urged the government to work with the business community to come up with an immediate emergency plan to keep the country’s businesses going.

For a start, the group proposed a six-to-12-month stabilisation plan followed by a three-year recovery plan.

“We strongly urge the government to lift the MCO. People may be saved from the virus but may die of poverty,” they said.

The group comprises, among others, SME Association of Malaysia, Malaysian Association of Travel and Tourism Agents (Matta), Bumiputera Retailers Organisation (BRO), Yayasan Usahawan Malaysia, Akademi Usahawan Mikro (AUM), Asian Oceania Computing Industry Association (Asocio), Association of Malaysian Spa (Amspa) and Branding Association of Malaysia (BAM).

Other members are Centre of Strategic Human Resources, Contact Centre Association Malaysia (CCAM), Council of Asian Fashion Designers Malaysia, Hospitality Asia, Malaysia Digital Chamber of Commerce, Malaysia Hair Association and Malaysia Association of Certified Coaches (MACC).

Unemployment soared to over 4 percent in the second half of last year but improved slightly after the government began phasing out the MCO from May onwards.

Growth in the second quarter of 2020, when the first MCO was in full force, contracted by a record -17 percent but picked up slightly in the third and fourth quarters, prompting optimism that the economy would rebound this year.

Analysts have since revised their 2021 growth forecast following the second partial lockdown that started on January 13.

As quarantine fatigue sets in, others also asked what was the point of staying home when the government appeared set on reopening up as many economic sectors as possible, notwithstanding new Covid-19 cases in the thousands daily.

Former deputy agriculture minister Sim Tze Tzin encapsulated the public sentiment with a post online.

“There is no leadership, no clear plan, no clarity in fighting #COVID19. Another 14 days of MCO separuh masak will fail again,” the Bayan Baru MP said.

Even before the extension, medical experts already lamented the lack of openness about Malaysia’s Covid-19 situation, saying available expertise in the country was going to waste because the authorities would not be transparent

Kuala Lumpur Hawkers and Petty Traders Association chairperson Ang Say Tee said the extension has left traders, particularly those who have stocked up for the Chinese New Year, in a serious predicament.

Ang told Malaysiakini that while traders took precautions by halving their orders this year, it now appeared that even this would be difficult, if not impossible, to shift because of the MCO.

“If this continues, traders may not die of illness, but will starve to death,” he was quoted as saying by Malaysiakini.