Malaysia's business community calls for aid ahead of fresh restrictions

Many businesses had already used up their savings during the previous round of lockdowns in 2020. PHOTO: REUTERS

KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysia's business community is calling on the government to announce aid measures as a strict partial lockdown once again kicks in on Wednesday (Jan 13).

While accepting the need for a partial lockdown in view of a drastic rise in coronavirus cases over the past month, business associations are also warning that many businesses have already used up their savings during the previous rounds of lockdown last year.

Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin said on Monday that Malaysia will once again implement a movement control order (MCO) in several states, including the entirety of the country's biggest urban agglomeration - the Klang Valley.

However, he did not announce any immediate aid that could help tide businesses over the MCO period, which is likely to cause losses for many of them. The first MCO, which lasted for almost three months between March and June last year, saw the government announce blanket loan moratoriums, wage subsidy schemes and special grants for businesses.

The Malaysian Employers Federation (MEF), in a statement, asked the government to consider reintroducing some of these measures, especially for small and medium-sized enterprises.

MEF president Syed Hussain Syed Husman said the survivability of many companies now depends on the assistance that can be provided by the government.

"MEF hopes that some of the measures introduced during the MCO in March 2020 such as the Employment Retention Programme, Wages Subsidy Programme and loan moratorium for both employees and employers, especially the small and micro enterprises, will be reintroduced," Datuk Syed Hussain said.

Similar calls were also made by retailers and hotel associations in the country.

Malaysian Association of Hotels CEO Yap Lip Seng urged the government to extend a wage subsidy scheme to help businesses retain their workers.

"In comparison with March 2020, we are in a worse situation now and we are expecting a bigger impact. The government must take immediate action to protect the industries in order to protect the people," Mr Yap said in a statement.

Malaysia Singapore Coffee Shop Proprietors' General Association president Ho Su Mong said that businesses in the food and beverage sector will lose at least 20 per cent of their income as only take-out food is allowed in areas where the MCO is implemented.

The Star reported Mr Ho as saying that the government should help subsidise rentals for small businesses.

Unlike the first MCO implemented last year - when only essential services were permitted - the International Trade and Industry Ministry said on Tuesday that it was allowing five essential economic sectors to continue operating at a limited capacity.

These sectors are manufacturing, construction, services, trade and distributions, and plantations and commodities.

Companies under these sectors should be registered with the Ministry, Senior Minister Azmin Ali said on Tuesday. They will be allowed to have only 30 per cent of their workforce present at workplaces.

The MCO will be enforced in Penang, Sabah, Melaka, Johor, Selangor, and the federal territories of Kuala Lumpur, Putrajaya and Labuan from Jan 13 to Jan 26.

Malaysia's daily coronavirus tally hit a high of 3,309 new cases on Tuesday, ahead of the partial lockdowns. The public healthcare system is at a breaking point, according to officials, with 30,390 active cases, exceeding the bed capacity of 28,674.

The Health Ministry said that from Tuesday, it was asking patients who are asymptomatic or have only mild symptoms of Covid-19 to isolate themselves at home while it focuses on treatment for those with more serious conditions.

Three Cabinet ministers have tested positive in recent days.

Malaysia has recorded 141,533 cases and 559 deaths since the pandemic began.

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