An overwhelming welcome to 2021

By Sofea Azahar, Research Analyst at EMIR Research

As we have gone through what some call a leap year in 2020 given its unprecedentedness, the new year of 2021 has come in as another year of uncertainty and only in the month of January, rakyat have been overwhelmed with unfortunate circumstances and human-made dramas such as flash floods, rising Covid-19 cases, political shenanigans and very recently, declaration of national emergency. But these can be mitigated with united and selfless cooperation between every individual regardless of any social background.

Towards the end of last year, areas in several states have been badly hit by heavy flood namely Kelantan, Terengganu, Pahang, Johor and Sarawak. As a result, the flood victims needed to be evacuated from their respective houses to relief centres that have been provided. 

Furthermore, the number of confirmed local cases has not toned down below four-digit since late last year as the standard operating procedures (SOPs) have been eased further by the government to jumpstart and to recover the economy. On 7 January, the daily case reached a 3,000-mark for the first time with 3,027 cases.

Through the third wave of infection beginning 20 September until 10 January, the number of new clusters have also risen significantly to 476 compared with 110 new clusters reported during the second wave. So, these add up to a total of 586 new clusters involving 254 clusters which remain active.

Projections based on R-naught being at 1.1 show that the number of daily cases is expected to reach a higher mark of 5,000 in the second week of April and even higher at 8,000 in the fourth week of May. 

Anecdotally, these conditions have caused disruptions to businesses and people’s incomes as some had to be closed or shut down due to inability to survive further or to adhere to the SOPs. 

The latest data released by the Department of Statistics has revealed a still-deem picture for the unemployment status as the unemployment rate went up by 0.1 percentage point from 4.7 per cent in October 2020 to 4.8 per cent in November 2020. 

In absolute numbers, the number of unemployed increased from 748,200 persons in October to 764,400 persons in November. 

This shows that despite the reopening of economic sectors and government stimulus packages, people are still losing jobs and scratching their heads to make ends meet. So long as the majority of the population (60 to 70 per cent) is not vaccinated to obtain herd immunity, not only health but economic uncertainties remain.

These should provide an alarming sign that sterner actions need to be taken in order to ensure that the Covid-19 chain can be controlled, to not overwhelm the frontliners more than they already are now, and to not cause any further closure of businesses as well as job losses.

According to the Prime Minister (PM) in his special address on Monday, “…Our healthcare system is under tremendous pressure now than at any other time since the start of the pandemic…”

In the same speech, it is good to know that the supply of vaccines from Pfizer for the first phase is expected to be received by the end of February. Additionally, the government has also signed an early agreement and in the final phase of discussion in effort to increase supply of vaccines to cover a wider share of Malaysian population.

And due to the worrying spike in Covid-19 cases in the country, government has announced the imposition of Movement Control Order (MCO) at different levels (from 13 January to 26 January) in respective states such as follows:

  1. Total MCO: Pulau Pinang, Selangor, Melaka, Wilayah Persekutuan (Kuala Lumpur, Labuan and Putrajaya), Johor and Sabah;
  2. Conditional MCO (CMCO): Pahang, Perak, Negeri Sembilan, Kedah, Terengganu and Kelantan; and 
  3. Recovery MCO (RMCO): Perlis and Sarawak.

With the imposition, inter-state and inter-district travels have been banned nationwide which also means domestic tourism is ‘out of the picture’ again and workers who are involved in this particular sector would again suffer especially those with poor social safety net. 

Within the economic sectors, only sectors which are considered essential are allowed to operate during the total MCO – factories and manufacturing, construction, services, distribution business, plantations and commodities, and others.

While the measures to stabilise the health-related setbacks is a must to do, economic impact in these states would undeniably be substantial too, though it cannot be translated into an exact figure yet. 

An obvious example can be taken from the first nationwide MCO in March which had resulted in massive economic blow – rising unemployment, business closures. Of course, the impact might not be as bad since it’s not a nationwide imposition this time around but people would still feel the pinch.

For instance, referring to the list released by the Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI), daily wage earners such as the small hawkers who depend on day-to-day operations are not part of the essential services would be affected badly as most people have been ordered to work from home, hence, less visitors to their stalls.

Unfortunately, prolonged political instability comes in as another major concern for the country as some politicians are pushing for a General Election (GE15) in the midst of this critical time when the ultimate focus should be on fighting the pandemic by avoiding mass/election gatherings and help rakyat and businesses in weathering through the crisis, i.e. implementation and monitoring of Budget 2021 measures.

We have witnessed the consequences when Sabah state election was held amid the pandemic that has led to Covid-19 cluster amongst the ministers and again, led to disruptions in businesses and incomes. 

The past is there for you to study and learn from it so that you can make your future better. Or would you want to see the history repeat itself? 

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