Malaysia U-turns on approval for Heineken, Carlsberg to operate during coronavirus lockdown after backlash

Heineken Malaysia said on April 5 that it had received approval to resume limited operations with a minimal number of workers. PHOTO: REUTERS

KUALA LUMPUR (REUTERS) - Malaysia's Cabinet on Monday (April 6) revoked approvals for brewers Heineken and Carlsberg to restart operations during month-long curbs on travel and non-essential business after a backlash in the Muslim-majority nation.

The decision to allow Heineken Malaysia and Carlsberg Brewery Malaysia to operate during the virtual lockdown had angered some people in the country that has the highest number of coronavirus infections in South-east Asia.

Malaysia has so far reported 3,662 cases, with 61 deaths.

"In a special Cabinet meeting today chaired by the Prime Minister, we have decided to rescind their approval to operate," Minister of Defence Ismail Sabri told a news conference, saying the matter had gone viral on social media.

Heineken Malaysia said on Sunday that it had recently received approval to resume limited operations with a minimal number of workers during the restrictions, which run until mid-April.

"We have an obligation to ensure continuous supply of our products, maintain the employment of our people and to contribute positively to the economic recovery of our nation," it said in a statement on its website.

Its stock, which has lost a fifth of its value this year, rose more than 1 per cent on Monday. Carlsberg Brewery shares were largely flat, in line with the wider market.

"If producing Heineken is deemed 'essential services' then I can think of another 200 services more worthy of that designation," opposition politician Zaid Ibrahim said on Twitter.

Calls made to the offices of Heineken Malaysia and Carlsberg Brewery went unanswered.

The Star online news said the decision to allow the two breweries to continue operations had resulted in criticisms from Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS), which is part of the Malaysian government, and from Muslim groups that questioned this exemption, as alcohol is not considered an essential item.

Heineken, The Star report said, on Sunday obtained approval from the Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs Ministry to resume limited operations with a minimal number of essential workers during the Movement Control Order, which is into its 20th day on Monday.

The MCO's last day will be on April 14, if it is not extended.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.