Officials tussle in Malaysia over shops selling alcoholic drinks during MCO

A deserted shopping mall in Kuala Lumpur on June 1, 2021.
A deserted shopping mall in Kuala Lumpur on June 1, 2021.PHOTO: REUTERS

KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysians have been thrown into confusion with conflicting rules on whether the sales of alcoholic drinks must stop as it is a  “non-essential” service under the ongoing total lockdown, while cigarette sales could go ahead.

Malaysia on Friday (June 4) entered the fourth day of  a strict two-week movement control order (MCO) that has shut down most businesses and social activities.

Total Covid-19 cases surged beyond 600,000 cases on Friday, with Malaysia having the most cases in South-east Asia after Indonesia and the Philippines.

Several Cabinet ministers and key officials from several ministries have attracted brickbats as some businesses struggled to understand whether they could continue to open their outlets.

Deputy Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs Minister Rosol Wahid on Friday (June 4) said alcohol sales are banned, sparking an uproar as Malaysians accuse  the government of being selective on what is “forbidden” during the MCO.

The deputy minister had at the same time said cigarettes can still be sold,  to cater to the needs of those with a “smoking addiction”.

“We can’t stop its sale, otherwise there will be problems. Only smokers will understand. Without cigarettes, it will be a huge burden for them,” he was quoted as saying on Friday by news site The Vibes.

Malaysians took to  social media to express their dissatisfaction, such as Twitter user @adrianang, who said: “Beer factories cannot operate during lockdown. I understand. But now shops can’t sell alcohol because it’s ‘not essential’ items? Since when does the authority decide which shop can sell what they deem as essential? Might as well ban cigarettes, ice-cream, cheese, magazines and books.”

The confusion followed criticism as the  government had first allowed beer and alcoholic beverage factories to  operate, but shut them down after public complaints on why these were considered “essential” goods and services.

Under the health protocols issued by the National Security Council, only liquor shops and factories were prohibited from operating, not the sale of alcoholic beverages.

Following the backlash, Datuk Rosol later said alcohol beverages can be sold at premises such as convenience stores with licences to sell liquor during the MCO.

The Kuala Lumpur City Hall, which is under the Federal Territories Ministry, issued  a statement on Friday to say  there is no blanket sales ban on liquor sales at premises such as supermarkets and convenience stores under its authority.

“There is no such ban by Kuala Lumpur City Hall unless those premises selling them were not licensed for such activities in the first place. Restaurants can be opened but as no dine-in is allowed, there should not be any serving of liquor.

“Pubs and karaokes are closed, so the question of serving liquor does not arise,” Federal Territories Minister Annuar Musa was quoted as saying by  The Star news site.

“As for supermarkets, they are allowed to open and therefore can sell liquor if they have the license to sell it. It is very clear,” he added.