By Ong Kian Ming
The Prime Minister announced yesterday that we will remain in Phase 1 of the Movement Control Order (MCO) 3.0 until the number of daily cases falls below 4000 cases per day. This means that dining-in will still not be allowed, non-essential retail shops will still not be allowed to open and most of the service industry (including handphone and laptop repair shops) will remain closed.
Meanwhile, many of the factories, where most of the new clusters and cases which are being reported during this lockdown phase of the MCO, are being allowed to continue to operate. Instead of waiting for the number of cases to reduce to below 4000 (which is an arbitrary number and does not take into account the percent positive rate, the number of tests done daily and also the percentage of ICU beds which are filled), I strongly suggest that the government allow the opening up of more sectors of the economy safely and responsibly, based on science and data from Malaysia and other countries, before more businesses collapse and die.
I fully agree with the statement made by Dato’ David Gurupatham, co-founder of Industries Unite when he said that, “Businesses should be allowed to operate with enhanced standard operating procedures (SOPs),” including the retail and F&B sectors. If we have to wait until the number of cases go below 4000 a day (which may be next week or next month), many more business will be forced to shut down, many of them permanently.
According to a recently released survey by the Small and Medium Enterprises Association (SAMENTA), over half of SMEs won’t survive until September 2021 because they have burnt through their cash reserves and 30 percent won’t survive if the FMCO is extended. It was also reported to me that 30 percent of pubs and bars have closed down for good as well as 12 percent of those in the traditional trade involving goods from this sector.
Many of the gyms and outdoor event organizers are also crying out for help and support especially because they cannot see the light at the end of the tunnel. After my offer of pro-bono consulting services, I have received more than 20 requests for help from various sectors of the economy.
Financial assistance is much needed to the sectors which have been the most negatively affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent lockdowns. My colleague, former Deputy Youth and Sports Minister Steven Sim, has come up with a RM100 million proposal to save the sports industry. In addition to financial assistance, what companies need the most (especially the SMEs) is to be able to open up again, safely and responsibly.
I strongly recommend for the Prime Minister to put a plan on the table for each Ministry and Minister to propose how various sectors of the economy can open up safely subject to certain enhanced SOPs (e.g. dining in for two persons, starting with those who have been vaccinated, subject to a dining in period of 15 minutes for coffee shops and 1 hour for larger restaurants, with proper ventilation, just to give an example). This plan must be put on the table by the end of this week and the economy MUST be allowed to open up next Monday on the 5th of July, 2021, subject to these enhanced SOPs.
It does not make sense, for example, to have shops selling laptops and handphones remain closed while workers are asked to work from home and kids are asked to learn from home. What happens when our electronic devices break down or we need to get new devices to replace old ones?
At the same time, enhanced SOPs including strict testing procedures and protocols must be implemented at the factories and construction sites because these are where the new clusters are taking place. The government must also be ready to subsidize these testing measures especially for the SMEs in the manufacturing sector which has been hard hit by the COVID-19 pandemic.
I would be happy to assist the government or whichever Ministry to come up with these enhanced SOPs together with the relevant stakeholders and industry experts.
The government needs to make another U-turn on the announced policy of only opening up the economy further when the number of cases drop below 4000. If not, many more businesses will collapse and die. And the human misery and suffering will be increased significantly beyond what is already happening now.
Dr Ong Kian Ming is the MP for Bangi and former deputy minister of international trade and industry.
 https://www.malaymail.com/news/malaysia/2021/06/26/time-to-do-away-with-essential-and- non-essential-labels-for-industries-in-l/1985220
 https://stevensim.com/2021/06/27/rm100-million-urgently-needed-to-save-the-msian-sports- industry