The implementation of the first Movement Control Order (MCO) had evidently left a negative impact on its people — whether it’s the rise of unemployment and national debt in the country or families unable to bring food to the table, to students being burdened with transitioning into online learning and stagnant tuition fees.
After a whole year of transitioning from MCO, to Conditional MCO, to Recovery MCO, and back to CMCO, Malaysia was forced to implement yet another MCO when COVID-19 cases rose again, but with loosened (and ever-changing) SOPs, to avoid the same consequences.
But looking at it now, is the current MCO 2.0 doing more harm than good?
With many businesses already struggling to cope from the first MCO, according to the Malaysian Retail Chain Association (MRCA), Malaysia saw, yet again, a collapse of an estimated 50 to 70% of SMEs in the first three weeks of MCO 2.0's implementation in January when only essential businesses were allowed to open up to a certain time. When it became apparent that many were finding it hard to stay afloat, authorities then allowed businesses to re-open a mere month later, in February.
Although businesses were then allowed to operate, it showed the opposite of the intended outcome. After a month of MCO 2.0, was it too late of a decision to re-open businesses? Has the damage already been done or was it never recovered from the last round?
MARC senior economist Firdaos Rosli voiced his concerns, in an interview with SunBiz, that operating during this time has proved to be less profitable amongst businesses because of the decrease in consumer confidence in the economy, personal finances, and public safety.
When both ends of the spectrum are less likely to benefit, allowing businesses to continue operations poses an inconsistency which in turn brews doubt in people's minds if the new and constantly changing SOPs are truly effective in controlling the pandemic and achieving their goals of balancing between recovering the economy and flattening the curve.
In any economy, the collapse of businesses has an immediate impact on households all over Malaysia. Families that are involved in the business sector are now forced to live on a day-to-day basis, having little left at the end of the day to put into their savings.
Not only that, when unemployment saw a hit of 4.8% in December 2020, it shows that families were already struggling to earn an income. Many employees stopped seeking jobs due to demotivation in looking for work, believing that there are simply no job offers available.
To counter this, numerous fiscal stimulus has been injected into the economy. Efforts, however, are to no avail as low-income urban families and families with sole breadwinners who have lost their job are still struggling to stay afloat.
What about families with children? MCO 2.0 has once again brought online learning back, adding pressure on these families already struggling, as many already lack proper internet connection. Moreover, parents have been burdened with educating their children on their own with the overwhelming ratio difference between English to Malay educational resources.
Although university students may not need parental guidance as opposed to younger children, the different MCOs still impacted them in several ways. During the first MCO, many students had to adapt to e-Learning, despite it being less encouraging than physical classes. Many students were forced to rely on self-learning and self-discipline which may not be as effective as a high number, causing students to be more demotivated in their studies.
Moreover, hands-on students studying subjects like medicine, engineering, and culinary faced difficulties as they weren’t allowed to return to campus, making labs and other areas inaccessible for them. With the quality of education being debated and households struggling to stay afloat, the fact that tuition fees and resources became stagnant during this period posed an even heavier burden to students that have been working part-time to contribute to the payments.
However, the ever-changing SOPs and extensions made under MCO 2.0, have definitely caused uncertainty towards international students and those from other states away from their campus, on whether or not they’re allowed back to campus. Although it has been announced that students are allowed back on campus from 1st March, who knows if the decision would be taken away when everyone starts coming back and moving into hostels again? And although this seems like a breath of fresh air for most students, is this the right step to take or will we see another spike of cases?
While evidence from businesses, families, as well as students, show that MCO 2.0 has been less severe compared to the first, can we truly say it is an effective tool in flattening the COVID-19 curve? Though certain states, like Kedah, Terengganu, Kelantan, and Pahang initially showed a decrease in infection rate, areas with dense populations, like Selangor, KL, and Johor, saw an increase instead due to the higher rate of economic and industrial activities.
Trying to pursue both at once, Malaysia has imposed regulations that can be stated as questionable, at the very best. We saw an MCO extension in four states to 4th March 2021, yet we also saw the travel limit of 10km being lifted, the ability to dine-in, and the lifting of passengers in a car — with strict implementation of SOPs.
At this point, who knows what exactly an MCO means? In order to flatten the curve, it’s obvious the most effective way would be to implement a total lockdown for at least 2 weeks, though it may be at the expense of economic disruption. Let’s get real, with the way MCO 2.0 has been regulated, its implementation makes little to no difference than if it wasn't there in the first place, making it an ineffective tool in combatting the pandemic.
As inconsistency becomes evident in Malaysia, we mustn’t depend on the government to control the pandemic. Chasing both the health of the people and the health of the economy half-heartedly, won’t do any good for either objective but will end up worsening in the long run until one objective is prioritised.
Right now, we’re our only hope in playing a role in reducing the number of active COVID-19 cases and prioritising our heath before it's too late. How? Reduce public movement by staying at home and only stepping outside when it’s necessary. And when you do go out, remember to sanitise and mask up!
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