KUALA LUMPUR - Many cash-strapped Malaysians have been flocking to pawnshops which were allowed to reopen on Monday (May 4), as the country began easing a partial lockdown amid an unprecedented economic crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
Long queues were seen outside pawnshops in Kuala Lumpur, Selangor, Johor, Melaka as well as in other states, as people rushed to pawn their jewellery for cash or renew pawn tickets.
Many Malaysians have been struggling with financial hardship after suddenly being unable to work or having lost their jobs due to the movement control order (MCO), in particular lower-income groups, the self-employed, and daily wage earners.
Mr David Yew, manager of a pawnshop in the Kuala Lumpur suburb of Kepong, said that there were "too many" customers over the last two days, comprising all races.
"We had 140 customers today, most of them pawned their gold for cash. They had run out of money during the MCO and didn't have any food at all," he told The Straits Times.
"I can't help much, the government should help them. If government aid is RM600 (S$195) for a family, if you have a baby, it is not enough," he said.
Another pawnshop in the Kuala Lumpur suburb of Sri Rampai said they were "too busy" to talk. "We had over 100 customers yesterday and today," a shop worker said.
Malaysia Pawnbrokers Association president Tan Ho Keng said, however, that most went to pawnshops to renew or redeem their pawn tickets.
"There are a lot of people queuing outside the shops due to the fact that we have not been opened for a month and a half," he was quoted as saying by The Star daily.
He urged the government to introduce the use of digital transactions into pawnbrokers' business operations to reduce physical contact.
Last month, Mr Tan had called on the government to allow pawnshops to reopen after having received many inquiries from customers.
He said pawnshops play a vital role in helping society, and in particular the lower income groups, "to obtain funding to buy necessities during this difficult period that the country is facing".
Malaysia began relaxing its coronavirus control measures, allowing some businesses to reopen from Monday, citing economic losses of RM63 billion since the MCO came into force on March 18.
A number of hotels and other companies in Malaysia, hard-hit by the Covid-19 pandemic, have folded.
The government had at end-March announced that it would provide cash aid for those eligible, but former human resources minister M. Kulasegaran questioned if it had reached those in need.
"In Ipoh, I saw quite a number of people going to pawnshops placing their jewellery for cash... Has the government economic aid reached the people?" he tweeted on Monday.
Facebook user Nurhani Marzuki said that she was one of those who had gone to a pawnshop. "Praise God, as long as I can handle things myself, I will handle it myself. Avoid borrowing and begging," she said.
Malaysia on Tuesday reported 30 new coronavirus cases, bringing the cumulative total to 6,383 cases. The health ministry also reported one new death, raising the total fatalities to 106.