A coalition of over a hundred Malaysian business and trade groups has warned of mass unemployment if the government persists with its strategy of prolonging a Covid-19 lockdown, which is now in its third month.
Industries Unite (IU), which comprises 115 business and trade groups - mostly representing micro enterprises - said yesterday that it would be counterproductive to overcome Covid-19 if Malaysians were to "die of starvation".
The economic hardship faced by Malaysians had manifested in a white flag movement that began last week. Those needing help have been urged to put up a white flag outside their homes as a signal to receive community-mobilised aid.
But IU co-founder David Gurupatham said that if the situation is prolonged, even Malaysians with the capacity to help others now would not be able to continue doing so.
Malaysia's unemployment rate hit 5.3 per cent last year - the highest in three decades - on the back of the stringent lockdown implemented for more than two months. Latest figures show the unemployment rate at 4.6 per cent earlier this year, just before the current lockdown which is also the third since the pandemic hit the country.
Daily case numbers have not shown any significant drop despite a near total closure of the economy.
The group urged the government to change its strategy, pointing out that very little improvement has been made in dealing with the virus for the past 16 months.
"This is no longer a question of businesses wanting to reopen, but it is a question of the mental health and well-being of the people," Datuk David said.
Meanwhile, the founder of retail chain Mydin said people have resorted to stealing staples from his stores due to economic hardship.
"There has been an increase in theft from our stores, but not for big items such as television sets. There are people stealing fish and vegetables... that is very sad," Datuk Ameer Ali Mydin said during IU's media briefing. "The sale of noodles has skyrocketed because that's all people can afford."
Mydin rolled out an initiative to help the needy and received 5,000 requests within 24 hours, he said.
IU coordinator Irwin Cheong urged the government to respond after a previous open letter addressed to Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin was met with silence.
He said the government should stop labelling businesses as essential or non-essential, as "everyone is essential, every life matters". The people cannot afford any more lockdowns or any other strategic missteps in dealing with Covid-19, he added.
Malaysia has recorded over 6,000 daily cases for about a week, way above the threshold of 4,000 cases and below needed to transition to the next stage of its recovery plan. Yesterday, it had 7,654 new cases, bringing the total tally to 792,693.
A partial reopening of the economy is expected only after September, with a full reopening and herd immunity expected by the end of the year. Businesses have said they would not be able to survive until then while maintaining overhead costs.
Six states, however, moved into phase two this week after the government evaluated the thresholds in daily case numbers, intensive care bed capacity, and vaccination rate separately according to each state's population ratio.
But Selangor and parts of Kuala Lumpur have come under enhanced lockdown due to high prevalence of cases.