PM Muhyiddin rolls out $4.9b financial aid a week into Malaysia's second MCO

Malaysia's Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin also announced that Malaysia's private hospitals have agreed to take on coronavirus patients who are currently treated at public healthcare facilities. PHOTO: REUTERS

KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysia's Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin on Monday (Jan 18) announced a new aid package to help front-liners and the economy as two-thirds of the country entered its second week of a strict partial lockdown.

Tan Sri Muhyiddin unveiled a RM15 billion (S$4.9 billion) aid package called Permai, and announced that Malaysia's private hospitals have agreed to take on coronavirus patients who are being treated at public healthcare facilities, which are already at breaking point.

The amount is a fraction of the RM250 billion stimulus package dished out by the government under the first movement control order (MCO) announced in March last year.

Six states, including economically-dominant Selangor, Johor and Penang, along with the three federal territories, including Kuala Lumpur, have been placed under MCO 2.0 for two weeks as Covid-19 cases have spiked in recent weeks. Daily cases hit a record high of 4,029 on Saturday, after averaging more than 2,500 a day for the whole of January.

Under the new package, Mr Muhyiddin said an additional RM800 million will be set aside for the Health Ministry, along with funds to hire 3,500 extra healthcare staff to deal with the country's worsening pandemic.

He also announced the expansion of a wage subsidy scheme for business owners in the states and regions under MCO, while assuring the continuation of a targeted loan moratorium for those who had pay cuts or lost their income due to the pandemic.

The aid package will see RM2.2 billion allocated to the Welfare Department to help affected families, while a RM50 million food basket programme for eligible households is also set to begin.

A slew of incentives in the aid package is aimed at providing greater tax relief for Malaysians and also spur the local economy.

Among others, Mr Muhyiddin said that an exemption on the sales tax for cars- an initiative introduced last year - will be extended until the end of 2021.

Tax breaks for the purchase of a technology gadget such as smartphones - a scheme that was supposed to end in 2020 - has also been extended to the end of 2021.

Mr Muhyiddin said in a nationally televised address that Malaysia's vaccination programme is "on track", and he expects 27 million Malaysians to be vaccinated by the end of the first quarter of 2022.

"The first group will receive vaccinations in early March," he said, with the first batch of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines set to arrive at the end of February.

The premier said that the impact of the latest partial lockdowns on the Malaysian economy will be controlled, while reiterating that the emergency declaration made last week by Malaysia's King, Sultan Abdullah Ahmad Shah, will not spook the markets and investors.

"We have seen that since Jan 11 (the day the emergency came into effect), Bursa Malaysia (stock exchange) and bond markets remain stable and in order," Mr Muhyiddin said.

Under MCO 2.0, social gatherings, and inter-district and inter-state travel are banned, while restaurants are limited to delivery and takeaway services.

Essential businesses such as supermarkets and medical halls are allowed to operate. But unlike MCO 1.0, other retailers are also allowed to remain open, including optometry and electrical appliances shops, luggage sellers and Ikea stores as the government tries to limit the MCO's impact on the economy. The first MCO, which saw almost a total shutdown except for essential services, cost the Malaysian economy RM2.4 billion a day.

"The Permai initiative will be based on three main objectives, which are to combat the Covid-19 pandemic, to ensure the welfare of the people, and to support the survival of businesses," Mr Muhyiddin said.

The new MCO came into effect last Wednesday (Jan 13), less than a month after interstate travel was allowed in time for Christmas and New Year celebrations.

Malaysia has more than 37,782 active Covid-19 cases under treatment, beyond the 34,000 beds available for Covid-19 patients in public hospitals.

Asymptomatic and low-risk patients are being asked to quarantine at home, while a low-risk quarantine centre is being converted into a Covid-19 hospital.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.