By Steven Sim
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia--Yesterday, the media reported that the gym and fitness industry has suffered more than RM110 million in losses since MCO 1.0. Today, the industry is still in a total shutdown.
SMEs, the backbone of our local economy, are suffering massively. Within one year from March 2020, 100,000 SMEs have closed shop, and the SME Association of Malaysia warned that if the current lockdown continues for a month, another 50,000 will fold.
The question now is, how long will the government continue with this arbitrary, unempirical, unscientific and meaningless lockdown policy?
Some sectors are allowed to operate, while others are not. Some companies can continue to run while others cannot. It is as if some businesses are asked to sacrifice for others.
Both the Malaysian people and businesses are willing to sacrifice and have indeed sacrificed in order to win this pandemic war. But with the government’s arbitrary, unempirical, unscientific and meaningless lockdown, the number of Covid-19 positive cases and deaths are not improving.
In the 21 days since the implementation of Total Lockdown, there had been 128,662 Covid-19 positive cases. Compare this to 127,873 positive cases during the last 21 days when all economic sectors were still allowed to operate from 11 May to 31 May 2021. In other words, nothing much has changed despite the stricter lockdown and the shutdown of the so-called non-essential sectors!
With these statistics, the lockdown will be prolonged and the sectors which had to shut down will continue to suffer. It renders in vain, the long and painful sacrifices of these sectors.
Adopt actual risk assessment, real data and sound scientific principles in decision-making on economic sector shutdown
After more than one year of managing the pandemic, by now, the government should be able to conduct actual risk assessment on business premises, factories, and offices of all sectors, not playing the dangerous game of Russian roulette in deciding which sector should live and which sector should die.
In fact, at the end of last week, the Ministry of Health announced that 17 out of 23 new Covid-19 clusters were workplace clusters. Why is this happening when other sectors are being asked to shut down?
Every business should be given equal opportunity to demonstrate that they are able to minimise if not totally prevent on-site infection if they are allowed to operate; those which fail to do so should not be allowed to open, whether they be essential or not. And those which are able to do so, should not be unfairly punished with unnecessary shutdown.
If this pandemic will eventually become endemic as the government projected, then this is the new normal that the government and businesses will have to adopt. Instead of letting our economy, especially our SMEs go on a roller coaster ride every other month with the shutdown-reopen vicious cycle, the government must make decisions based on actual risk assessments, real data and sound scientific principles.
For example, what kind of policy decision was it that allowed factories with hundreds and thousands of workers but disallowed a fitness instructor from going to his gym to record and stream fitness videos for his clients at home so that at least he can continue to sustain his business, even at minimum?
The federal government should work with local governments, trade associations, chambers of commerce and professional bodies as part of a whole-of-society approach to safeguarding our economy and fighting the pandemic
It will not be easy to implement such a risk assessment exercise, but this is where the much touted “whole-of-society approach comes in. Federal Ministries should not make decisions and pontificate from their high towered offices in Putrajaya alone. They must engage local governments which license business premises, trade associations, chambers of commerce and professional bodies to assist in such exercise.
For example, recently, a coalition of gym and fitness facility operators has offered to implement a 73-point SOP checklist so that their sector may reopen. Yet, despite this, and the low transmission rate recorded in the sector previously when they were allowed to operate, the government continues to turn a deaf ear by the arbitrary application of the terms “essential” and “non-essentials”.
Such an attitude of the federal government must stop. Everyone is suffering, business as usual by the federal government will only kill more Malaysian businesses and yet, fail to contain the pandemic.
Malaysian people and businesses are willing to sacrifice to win the pandemic war, but enough of arbitrary, unempirical, unscientific and meaningless industry shutdown by the government
By Steven Sim