PM Muhyiddin promised a stimulus plan for all Malaysians, and for the most part, that's exactly what he seems to have delivered. But do we have enough money to stimulate the economy to the tune of RM250 billion? Elsewhere, Hulu Langat gets locked down, while Malaysia registers a bunch of unwanted records as the number of Covid-19 cases continues to go up and up.

No one left behind

Something for everyone?

No one gets left behind. That was, at least, the initial promise by our new-old Perikatan Nasional government. And for the most part, Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin’s Prihatin RM250 billion PRIHATIN economic stimulus package which he announced on Friday, appears to be on track to achieving that.

In terms of deets, the benefits – from free internet access until the end of the Movement Control Order (MCO), a salary payment scheme, to the exemption of rent payments for public housing and a moratorium on bank loans for six months – are indeed many. (You, can check out the full list here.)

However, what’s most important to know, apart from who qualifies for what, is that firstly, the announced measures do appear to be geared towards really helping low- and middle-income earners deal with the fallout from the Covid-19 pandemic. And secondly, the government isn’t coughing up RM250 billion to do all this.

Yes, we know. It’s confusing, and we were scratching our heads for a while too wondering if some financial genius like Tengku Adnan Tengku Mansor had suddenly found RM250 billion in loose change in a hidden drawer somewhere. In a nutshell, the bottom line is that the payout (or “direct fiscal injection,” if you wanna be fancy) is only RM25 billion. The RM250 billion figure is the total value that will result from people, for example, spending their handouts on groceries, and grocers, in turn, then making purchases from wholesalers, and wholesalers ordering stuff from factories and so on. It is the maximum projection of expenses.

Also, in case you were wondering, Finance Minister Tengku Zafrul Tengku Abdul Aziz says the dough to do all this will be obtained through borrowings as well as from the government’s coffers. (The government could also probably lean on Petronas, which some economists had previously suggested it do. However, considering the steep dip in oil prices globally, perhaps that’s not such a hot idea.)

Anyhoo, regardless of how good the package appeared to folks watching Moo’s address last Friday and despite even the likes of PSM’s Dr Michael Jeyakumar Devaraj giving it the thumbs up, not everyone was happy. And among the many critics, was the SME Association of Malaysia, which lamented that while the stimulus appeared to be good for the rakyat, small and medium enterprises (the SMEs) wouldn’t benefit much.

The association’s argument, as far as we can tell, is while some relief is being offered to help ensure workers aren’t let go or salaries slashed (such as the three-month salary subsidy scheme), the cash will not be enough to prevent a majority of SMEs from folding in a couple of months. Is the association correct? We don’t really know, to be honest, but if it is, then stimulus package or not, we could be seeing millions upon millions of Malaysians out of work before too long.

Another fellow, meanwhile, who had issues with Moo’s package was PM-no-longer-in-waiting Anwar Ibrahim, who said the measures should have first been debated in Parliament. Yes lah, sir, we know, like in certain other countries, the proper thing to have been done would be to discuss this in the Dewan Rakyat. Thing is, you do remember Parliament’s only meeting in May, right? Special sitting? Yeah, okay. But that might still take too long, no?

Still, to be fair to Anwar, the package isn’t perfect, and more time and constructive debate might have managed to plug some of the holes (the EPF withdrawal option, which we highlighted last week, for example, is still there).

However, by and large, it appears that for the time being at least, the now popular Makcik Kiah – the goreng pisang aunty whom Moo highlighted in his speech and who may or may not be a figment of his imagination – may just be able to cope thanks to the benefits in the stimulus package. Remember, these are stopgap measures to help the rakyat and businesses keep afloat as Malaysia, nay, the world, grapples with the health and economic ramifications of the coronavirus crisis.

Oh, and BTW, we do feel that that last bit of Moo’s speech on Friday where he talked about being at war with invisible forces and sorta pilfered Jim Gordon’s lines from The Dark Knight about being the hero Malaysia needs right now was pretty damn Oscar-worthy.

Hulu Langat locked down

Another are-specific lockdown has been ordered, this time in Selangor following a spike in Covid-19 cases in the Hulu Langat district. 

According to Defence Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob, movement restrictions (dubbed the enhanced MCO or EMCO) were ordered on Sunday after more than a quarter of the residents of a tahfiz, or religious school, in the area tested positive.

And just like in Kluang last week, beginning today, no one’s gonna be allowed in or out of the affected seven kampungs – which include two Orang Asli settlements – for two whole weeks. What the order, which ends April 13, also translates to is that we now have approximately 8,000 people shut off from the rest of Malaysia.

Health Director-General Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah had warned prior to the announcement that the government was considering locking down “one or two zones in Selangor”. So the question now is which other area(s) will soon be subject to similar EMCOs. For the record, Petaling Jaya, which has already seen certain roads in and out of the area closed off, has almost as many cases as Hulu Langat, while Gombak and Klang are also declared Red Zones.

Incidentally, while evidence does appear to suggest that lockdowns work, there is concern it may not be doing much to curb the virus’ spread within poorer areas, like PPR flats, where families are crammed together in tiny spaces with really no way to keep apart from one another. 

Additionally, there is a real fear that MCO, whether enhanced of no, will have devastating effects on survivors of domestic violence, who’re now stuck for days on end with their abusers and worse, can’t call for help. Yes, police have moved to assure survivors that, lockdown or not, help is at hand. However, the fact of the matter is that shelter homes, where abuse survivors seek refuge, aren’t listed as essential services.

Do your part  – If you suspect a family member, neighbour or friend needs rescuing – call police at 999, Talian Kasih at 15999 or 019 2615999 (WhatsApp) and/or WAO at 03 7956 3488 or 018 988 8058 (SMS/WhatsApp). You could just save a life.

We agree, halting the virus from doing more damage is of paramount importance right now. But while strict measures are necessary, the government should not and must not neglect the most vulnerable of society – and that includes the homeless, urban poor, undocumented migrants, refugees and abuse survivors.

BTW, stricter rules to the existing nationwide MCO are expected to be announced once the National Security Council works out the details. However, Ismail Sabri, noted that an emergency would not be declared as the order still remains under the purview of the Health Ministry. 

New (unwanted) records

The number of Covid-19 infections has shot up since Friday. As of yesterday, Malaysia now logs 2,470 cases in total, with 35 deaths and a total of 388 full recoveries.

Worse, Sunday saw us break a number of unwanted records – for the most deaths registered in a single day (eight), as well as the oldest and youngest fatalities (a 91-year-old woman and a 27-year-old man). Still, it’s not all doom and gloom – yesterday also recorded the highest number of recoveries in a day (68!). We’ll take the small wins where we can.

Despite the spike in cases and deaths, Health D-G Dr Noor Hisham also noted that the number of patients in intensive care has stayed at 73 for two days now. By the way, of the 150 new cases recorded yesterday, 61 is related in some way to the Sri Petaling tabligh gathering.

Regardless of the minor positives though, he does insist that the Health Ministry is taking JPMorgan Chase & Co. and the Malaysian Institute of Economic Research’s predictions of cases peaking in mid-April very seriously. As such, an extra 19,200 beds are being readied for both patients and those under investigation at the Ministry’s training facilities. Hisham, who on Saturday had noted that it was better for the country to over-prepare than be caught with its pants down, also added that additional labs would be roped in to increase testing efficiency.

Meanwhile, there might just be an extra sliver of hope for Covid patients here now Malaysia has been picked by the World Health Organization (WHO) to run trials on the effectiveness of the experimental drug Remdesevir. Calling it an unprecedented effort, the D-G said patients would soon be able to be treated with the drug, while their side effects and the treatment’s effectiveness are monitored. 

Remdesevir, by the way, was originally developed to treat Ebola and has proven effective in lab conditions against coronaviruses like MERS and SARS. Nevertheless, whether it works against SARS-CoV-2 (that’s the virus behind Covid-19) is left to be seen.

The medical situation in the country aside, the weekend was packed with other coronavirus-related news, and here’re some of those highlights:

  • The MCA has complained to Taiwan over remarks made by Taiwanese TV show guest who belittled the country’s efforts against Covid-19 as well as made outrageous claims such as that the remains of Muslim victims who died of the disease were junked by the side of the road.
     
  • A man, who was initially suspected of being a Covid-19 victim, reportedly committed suicide at the Serdang Hospital on Friday. The Health Ministry, however, confirmed that although the guy was an ICU patient at the hospital, he did not test positive for the disease. Covid-19 tests, Health D-G Noor Hisham said, are now conducted on all ICU patients. 

    (Those seeking help can context Befrienders at 03-79568145 or sam@befrienders.org.my (email), or the gov’t psychosocial support line for those who feel they can’t cope with the emotional effects of Covid-19 at 011 63996482011-6399423603-9359935 from 8 am until 5 pm.)
     
  • Eateries and fast food outlets in Jerantut, Pekan and Raub in Pahang will no longer be allowed to cater for takeaways due to the worrying number of cases there.
     
  • A 58-year-old Malaysian man was found dead at the Cherok To’kun Forest Reserve in Penang. The deceased went missing after going hiking alone four days after the start of the MCO, despite his friend trying to advise him to stay at home.
     
  • While Malaysians who were stranded in the Maldives have been brought homeMalaysian students in the United Kingdom aren’t sure whether to head back here or stay put as the number of infections there rises.
     
  • Gardenia will produce up to 2.2 million loaves of bread a day now to meet the needs of consumers who’ve been faced with empty store shelves thanks to panic buyers.
     
  • Finally, the authorities have once again warned Malaysians against spreading fake Covid-19 news ’cos really, that shit benefits no one. Seriously, every single day we get forwarded nonsense with disclaimers like “not sure if it’s true” when what people should really be doing is verifying stuff themselves! Here’s a simple guide to detecting fake Covid news, by the way, to share with all those nincompoops – and your folks – who spam you on WhatsApp with fake coronavirus crap.

“This government may not be the government that you voted for. But I want all of you to know that this government cares for you.”

- Muhyiddin Yassin -

IN INTERNATIONAL NEWS

  • British PM Boris Johnson and his Health secretary Matt Hancock have both tested positive for Covid-19. BoJo, who is self-isolating, will, nevertheless, still be leading the government from his flat in Downing Street. The ultimate work-from-home case.
     
  • Spanish princess Maria Teresa has died after contracting Covid-19, making her the world’s first royal to perish from the disease. Meanwhile, Thomas Schaefer, a German state minister, has committed suicide after apparently becoming worried about how to cope with the economic fallout from the pandemic.
     
  • Donald Trump’s medical chief Anthony Fauci has warned that as many as 200,000 Americans could be dead by the time the coronavirus has burned through the United States. The US now has the most infections worldwide with close to 125,000 cases and more than 2,000 deaths.
     
  • A plane heading to Japan with medical supplies on board crashed while taking off from Ninoy Aquino International Airport in the Philippines. All eight people on board were killed.
     
  • Meanwhile, luxury fashion brands are stepping up to help sew face masks and personal protective equipment (PPEs) for countries that need them most.

ABOUT THIS NEWSLETTER

This weekday newsletter is brought to you by Trident Media, a group of Malaysian journalists with 60 years of combined media experience in four countries across TV, print and digital media.

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Trident Media · Seksyen 35 · Shah Alam, Selangor 40470 · Malaysia

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