KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysia plans to boost its Covid-19 war chest by raising its ceiling by as much as RM20 billion (S$6.5 billion) to RM65 billion, Finance Minister Tengku Zafrul Aziz said on Friday (Nov 6).
The fund will be used to deal with the coronavirus pandemic, including to finance a stimulus package, provide aid to people, meet front-line workers' needs and procure vaccines.
Malaysia on Friday reported 1,755 new coronavirus cases, the highest daily rise since the pandemic was tracked in Malaysia in January.
"The war is not over until and unless an affordable and accessible vaccine is available," Datuk Seri Tengku Zafrul said in his Budget 2021 speech. "The government is committed to obtaining Covid-19 vaccines through its participation in the Covid-19 Vaccine Global Access programme or Covax," he said.
Malaysia's Covid-19 vaccination needs is estimated to cost more than RM3 billion.
To aid those directly fighting the pandemic, some 100,000 medical frontliners from the Health Ministry will receive a one-off payment of RM500, on top of a monthly allowance of RM600 at present.
A total of RM 475 million will be allocated for the purchase of reagent supplies, test kits and consumables for the Health Ministry.
Meanwhile, some RM318 million will be set aside for Personal Protection Equipments (PPE) and hand sanitisers to frontliners while RM150 million will be allocated to the National Disaster Management Agency (Nadma).
The government will also provide RM50 million for the purchase of equipment, lab supplies and medicines at university hospitals.
In the light of pressing mental health needs during the pandemic, with more than 35,000 calls to the Health Ministry psychosocial helpline from March to October, the government would also allocate RM24 million to tackle this.
The government will boost aid to over 400,000 households living below the poverty line. Households with a monthly income of less than RM2,500 will get a once-off payment of RM1,200 to RM1,800, and those with monthly income of RM2,501 to RM4,000 will receive RM800 to RM1,200.
"It's quite an uphill task to reach the 'enough' state of allocations for B40 given the government's fiscal constraints," said Azrul Azwar, an economist with a state government-linked company, referring to the bottom 40 per cent (B40) of households in terms of income.
"However, what we can say is that the commitment to ensuring the well-being of B40 is quite apparent in Budget 2021."
Prof Dr Awang Bulgiba Awang Mahmud, an epidemiologist with Universiti Malaya, welcomed the government's allocation of RM100 million for infectious disease research, and hoped that some would go towards epidemiological modelling of the current pandemic, and the accelerated development of fast and reliable Covid-19 diagnostics tests.
A tax relief for vaccines including for Covid-19, pneumococcal and influenza would reduce the population's susceptibility to other respiratory infections, said Datuk Awang Bulgiba. "The allocations for fighting Covid-19 will go some way in this pandemic war but probably a bit more would have been helpful," he said.