KUALA LUMPUR - A Johor welder decided to fly a white flag in front of his gate, as he desperately looked for assistance to survive the impact of the pandemic.
Mr Zulkiflie Samsudin, 39, said he saw a movement called #benderaputih (white flag) on social media that was started by Malaysians for those in need of food and other essentials.
It encourages affected families to hang a white flag or cloth in front of their homes so that neighbours can render immediate assistance.
"I was sad that I could not provide for my family as the head of the household due to financial difficulties. So I flew the white flag after seeing the campaign on social media. Surprisingly, aid has been pouring in and I am able to support my family for months," he was quoted as saying by Malay daily Harian Metro.
The campaign signals the growing desperation and dire straits of Malaysians, as they struggle to continue putting food on the table amid an indefinite lockdown that resulted in job losses and slashed income.
The full lockdown, imposed on June 1 and extended on Monday (June 28), will not be lifted until daily new cases fall below 4,000. Daily cases have persistently exceeded the 5,000 mark.
Independent activist Natrah Ismail, 30, told The Straits Times: "It's no longer the low-income group that is affected. It's no longer a pinch, it's a devastating blow to everyone. It's down to us to help each other."
Since the pandemic started last year, the government has announced eight aid packages so far, the latest one on Monday, when it unveiled a RM150 billion (S$48.5 billion) recovery package for the extended lockdown. It includes RM300,000 to be allocated by the federal government to each lawmaker to implement the Food Basket Aid for the needy in their respective constituencies.
So far, aid has not been reaching the needy fast enough due to bureaucracy.
Since January, the Health Ministry has received more than 122,000 calls via its help hotlines, requesting emotional and psychological support related to the loss of jobs and income, as well as family and marital problems.
The authorities have also recorded 336 suicide cases between January and March - or an average of about four cases every day. The three-month figure is more than half of what was reported throughout 2020.
White-flag campaign supporter and actress Izara Aishah Hisham tweeted: "I advise those who are in need, who do not have food, to wave a white flag outside your house. Let the people around you help and give what they can. Don't take actions that are detrimental to yourself and your family. Don't feel embarrassed to wave the flag to seek help."
But the movement was dismissed by Parti Islam SeMalaysia's leader Nik Abduh Nik Aziz, who called on people not to easily admit defeat and urged them to pray instead. The party is part of the Muhyiddin administration.
His comments have triggered some angry responses on social media.
"Just shut up, no need to use praying and religion to mask you and your government's inefficiency and failure... People are facing hardships, if you can help, help. If not, shut up," said Twitter user @nandinibalakrishnan.
Housing and Local Government Minister Zuraida Kamaruddin, meanwhile, was accused of trying to hijack the campaign when voicing support for it.
"If you did your job and prioritised the people, all of this wouldn't have happened. Suddenly, now you're saying 'I'm with this campaign,'? Shame on you," said Twitter user @ameel.