Though the number of new Covid-19 cases dropped back down to double digits yesterday, there were cases in nearly all the states and federal territories in the country.

Meanwhile, analysts say constant political uncertainty could stunt our economic growth for the next decade; our could-soon-be PM's called for the government to implement a more targeted loan moratorium; and, some in the hallowed halls of Putrajaya think creating an “elite” kindergarten for people with more money than others is actually a good idea.

And the numbers keep climbing

The gift that keeps on giving

Covid-19 news is hardly very positive but yesterday’s update by the Health Ministry showed just how dismal the situation has become in Malaysia.

Yesterday saw two more deaths and another 89 new cases, with new patients detected in almost every state and federal territory. In fact, the only two places where new cases didn’t crop up were Putrajaya and Melaka.
 
The two new deaths bring the total number of Covid-related fatalities in the country to 136, while the new patients – only three of which are imported – bring the total number of cases since the pandemic came to our shores to 11,224. There are now 1,121 active cases.
 
One of those who died yesterday – a 46-year-old man in Alor Star with a history of various diseases, was also identified as the index case for the new ‘Tembok’ cluster there. This cluster originated in Kota Setar, where a targeted enhanced MCO (TEMCO) is in effect following the rapid spread of infections in two previous clusters called Sungai and Telaga.

Worryingly, the infectivity rate (Rt) in Selangor is now higher than even Sabah’s, at 1.95. What this means is that every person infected in Selangor has infected nearly two other people on average. Sabah’s Ris at 1.29, which is already a worrying number as anything above 1.0 is not good. 
 
Even so, Sabah again had the highest number of daily new cases, at 35. Many of the other cases across the country were linked to travel to “high-risk areas”, namely, you guessed it, Sabah. Of Kedah’s 13 new cases, for instance, two had travelled to Sabah, while of Selangor’s 10 cases, five had travelled there. In fact, from Sept 23, all states have cases linked to the East Malaysian state.

With the number of Sabah-linked cases increasing nationwide, no doubt largely thanks to the recent state polls there, it’s a damned shame stricter controls were not executed by the government. Despite repeated calls, the powers that be have refused to impose mandatory quarantine for those returning from the Land Below the Wind.

As it stands, those who test negative from airport screenings upon returning are merely advised to home quarantine for two weeks – which is the incubation period for the coronavirus, or in plain speak, the amount of time it takes for symptoms to show.
 
And it’s not just us plebs in BTL that’s calling this out, as health experts – including infectious diseases expert and former deputy health director-general Dr Saruman Christopher Lee – said the gomen should’ve imposed a home quarantine order on all Sabah returnees, even if the initial airport screenings turned up negative. For the record, Health DG Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah justified the decision, saying precedent had been set in other states which had localised outbreaks before. 
 
That’s not all. Here are the other Covid-related news to have come out yesterday:

  • There’s been no decision made yet over whether Kota Kinabalu will be placed under TEMCO orders. “News” reports of a lockdown across the entire state of Sabah are fake

    However, a roadblock’s been set up at the entry point into Sandakan to prevent vehicles from red zones in Sabah entering the district.
     
  • Bukit Aman will comply with orders from Attorney-General’s Chambers to get more details in the case against Plantation Industries and Commodities Minister Khairuddin Aman Razali for breaking home quarantine regulations after returning from Turkey. Just what the hell is taking so long?!?! 
     
  • Lembah Pantai MP Fahmi Fadzil is the latest politician to have been ordered to undergo home quarantine, after a member of his staff tested positive for Covid-19. Other members of his staff have also been ordered to quarantine themselves at home for 14 days. 

    Meanwhile, Universiti Teknologi Petronas students have been told to stay away from their campus after one of their number tested positive.
     
  • Two more Malaysians have been infected with the coronavirus in Singapore, taking the total number of our peeps testing positive for Covid-19 in the island republic to five this week. 

It's the economy, stupid

Covid-19 hit our wallets hard and its effects are still being felt. The economy shrank by 8.3 percent in the first half of the year compared to the same period last year. But there was even more bad news yesterday, via financial analysis firm Fitch Solutions. 
 
But when it comes to the nation’s finances, there’s a threat worse than the pandemic that’s swept the world – our bloody politics. Fitch has forecasted that political shenanigans in Malaysia will cost us dearly for the next 10 years as politicking will blunt our economic growth.

Combined with slower population growth and reduced fiscal space to cushion against negative future economic shocks, Fitch also predicted real GDP growth to be at just 3.4 percent over the next 10 years compared to 6.4 percent over the past decade. 
 
The political issues include the constant power shifts Fitch believes will happen, which the firm says will result in “questionable policy continuity and stalled reform momentum”. In other words, each time the government changes, ongoing policies get disrupted and new plans are executed. This lack of stability or long-term assurance tend to spook investors.
 
The upheaval will also likely see politicians resorting to populist measures to shore up support, leading to a worsening business environment over time as “more protectionist measures” are implemented. As an example, it cited Pakatan Harapan’s policies to hike the minimum wage, penalise the hiring of foreign workers and subsidising the hiring of locals, as examples.
 
Fitch also took aim at political defections, which it said could lead to a resurgence of corruption and the putting off of key reforms such as the end of affirmative action policies favouring “the ethnic Malay population”, which could cause a brain drain as non-Malays seek opportunities in other countries.
 
We’re getting almost daily examples of Fitch’s reference to political uncertainties. Take that almighty fight between Bersatu and BN/Umo for the chief minister’s post in Sabah, for example. Proof of how much Umno really wanted the post became even clearer yesterday, with newly-installed DCM I Bung Moktar Radin actually apologising to party president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi for not getting it. 
 
And there’s more to come, apparently. While talks between the two parties and PAS have begun over the next general election, which is expected soon, some Umno MPs are said to be looking at options to dissolve Parliament. You can practically see the drool dripping from their hackles at the thought of getting even more power, can’t you? And let’s not forget Pakatan poobah Anwar Ibrahim and his grand boast of having the numbers to bring down the PN government.
 
But, going back to the economy. Our intrepid perennial would-be PM took a break from his construction project in the sky to urge the gomen to review the figures for targeted loan moratoriums as he claimed too few borrowers had been surveyed. He claimed banks had only contacted 17 percent of the estimated 8.3 million borrowers in the country. 
 
Anwar said given that only 380,000 of the 1.4 million borrowers surveyed had indicated they needed financial assistance (his numbers differ from Bank Negara’s somewhat), there were likely more people out there who were not reached. So, a more targeted moratorium, focusing on borrowers from low-income households and small businesses was needed. 
 
The government had implemented a six-month blanket loan moratorium in April that expired yesterday. However, Putrajaya had managed to convince banks to either extend the moratorium for another three months for borrowers who lost their sources of income or rework the conditions of the loans. 
 
But is the loan moratorium a good idea for borrowers? It’s a lifeline for those who really need the assistance, but as we examined in a special edition of BTL back in April when the moratorium was first announced, it may not be a good thing for some. 
 
Besides, bank associations have said that those who missed yesterday’s deadline need not worry. Though they will have to start repayments from this month, they can still apply to their respective financial institutions for assistance if in trouble. 

Since we’re talking about financial matters, one last piece of news that came out yesterday was that Malaysia’s official reserves stand at US$104.41 billion, with other foreign currency assets amounting to US$1.61 billion. It’s gone up a tad from the US$101.7 billion recorded in March. We’re no financial experts, but yay we guess?

Of all the harebrained ideas...

Yesterday saw an incredible, and we have to say ludicrous, suggestion from Putrajaya.
 
Our dear, beloved Perikatan Nasional government apparently wants to start an elite version of the Community Development Department (Kemas) kindergartens  with a “better curriculum”, for kids aged 4 to 6 of Rich Parents Only.

The gomen has said it plans to target kids of parents with a “higher financial capacity”, like M40 parents, apparently because the fees will be much higher than normal Kemas kindies.  
 
A draft proposal on the matter is in the works and will be presented to the Cabinet for approval. But here’s the best part, though: the person talking about this all is Deputy Rural Development Minister Abdul Rahman Mohamad – the man tasked with developing rural regions and communities, not squash them.
 
Why is this new elite plan a problem? Critics say the move will contribute to the already huge education gap between the rich and the poor, the haves and the have nots, which in turn will eventually deepen economic inequalities.
 
Former deputy women, family and community development minister Hannah Yeoh is among those calling out the plan. Instead of creating a greater divide among children, she suggested the federal government look at improving the quality of early childhood education and care.

Lembah Pantai MP Fahmi Fadzil, meanwhile, said the government should seek to unite children from different economic backgrounds in the same institutions instead of dividing them and aim to improve existing kindies.
 
They do have a point. Why not fix what we have and provide a more level playing field for all? After all, Malaysia already has a widening income gap. Wouldn’t these elite Tabikas, if set up, serve to widen the gap further?
 
That income divide is also directly linked to the digital divide in the community, as those from lower-income families are less likely to own devices. We learned this lesson during the MCO, when education had to go online and kids in rural areas and those who couldn’t afford digital devices and didn’t have adequate internet speed and connection suffered the most.

Remember the case of Sabahan darling Veveonah Mosibin? Veveonah’s case is not the only one, either. We have heard of the case of some people using long poles to hoist modems for better broadband reception. Incidentally, one plantation estate in Kedah which came into the limelight for this will soon get a first-of-its-kind telco tower to solve the problem, though really, why do people have to resort to such actions before our leaders sit up and take notice? 
 
Early childhood education is such an important thing that we really can’t stress enough that having an elite kindie system would be just detrimental to the development of our children and, in the long run, disastrous to our development as a nation. Especially a nation bearing the scars of an ugly riot due to ethnic and income inequality among races, a festering wound that still exists today.
 
According to UNESCO, early childhood care and education is more than preparation for primary school. It’s aimed at the holistic development of a child’s social, emotional, cognitive and physical needs in order to build a solid and broad foundation for lifelong learning and wellbeing.
 
Having two different sets of kindies – one “normal”, the other “elite” – will only contribute to a bigger divide between the “upper” class and the so-called “lower” class, denying the latter opportunities right out of the gate. This comic does a brilliant job in highlighting how different privileges from an early age can affect later life decisions and opportunities.
 
But what we’re really curious about is if these “elite” kindies have a better curriculum, then does that mean the gomen is admitting it is using a flawed or inferior one right now?
 
It’s a really worrying suggestion, this one. What our beloved PM Muhyiddin Yassin and Gang should do, instead, is implement this “better curriculum” for all.

You guys, after all, represent the entire country. Not just the “elite”.

Bits and bobs

And, to round out your local news, here’s the section where we throw in all the remaining dangly bits. Enjoy!
 

  • The US has blocked imports of palm oil and palm oil products from FGV Holdings Bhd over what it claims to be information that “reasonably indicates” the use of forced labour by the company. 
     
  • Malaysia has become the 46th country to ratify the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, with Foreign Minister Hishammuddin Hussein signing on the nation’s behalf. 
     
  • new bill for the establishment of an ombudsman group, one of the key initiatives under the National Anti-Corruption Plan (NACP) 2019-2023, would be tabled at the next Parliament sitting, slated to be in November or December. The draft of the bill is now with the AGC to be finalised.
     
  • The Court of Appeal has ruled that customary-marriage widows – those those whose marriages are not registered – are entitled to claim for surviving spouse benefit under the Employees’ Social Security (Socso) Act 1969. Good as these peeps are usually the most vulnerable cos they’re the ones with little education and probably no means. 
     
  • The Federation of Sundry Goods Merchants Associations of Malaysia, which represents more than 4,000 sundry shop owners, has warned of a possible salt shortage “in days” because of the gomen’s requirement for iodine to be added to salt from yesterday. Alamak! But, if you’re a history geek like us, you’ll enjoy this little titbit: the word ‘salary’ comes from the Latin word, salariumwhich translates to ‘salt money’. Salt was so valuable back in Roman times that soldiers were actually sometimes paid in salt. 

“All I really need to know… I learned in kindergarten."

- Robert Fulghum -

IN INTERNATIONAL NEWS

  • The first of three presidential debates between current POTUS Donald Trump and challenger Joe Biden devolved into a̶ ̶c̶l̶u̶s̶t̶e̶r̶f̶u̶c̶k̶ an ugly affair yesterday as The Donald hectored and interrupted his Democrat challenger, who, in turn, called him a “clown” and told him to shut up.

    It was a horrible 90 minutes filled with lies and name-calling as both sides traded barbs. You can fact check some of these claims here, or watch the highlights – including an incredible claim from Trump that he stopped racial sensitivity training because it was “racist”. 

    It was so bad, the debate commission is thinking of changing the rules by the time the next debate rolls round on Oct 15. Incidentally, the debate unsettled Americans enough to renew searches for “how to move to Canada“, and for those more desperate, “how to move to Canda”.
     
  • A study published in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine claims a Covid-19 vaccine being developed by Moderna Inc is safe and showing signs of working in older adults, a group at severe risk of complications from the virus. 
     
  • British PM Boris Johnson has said the UK is at a critical juncture as new measures to tackle Covid-19 will take time to work. He says he’ll not hesitate to impose further restrictions should the number of infections continue to rise.
     
  • The Pope has denied an audience to US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, with the Vatican warning America against playing politics over China. 
     
  • A number of pretty famous people passed away yesterday. Among them were Helen Reddy, the Australian singer of feminist anthem “I Am Woman”; Country singer/songwriter Mac Davis, who first shot to fame after writing “A Little Less Conversation” and “In The Ghetto” for Elvis Presley; and, Timothy Ray Brown, known as the Berlin patient, the first person to be cured of HIV after a bone marrow transplant to cure leukaemia. 
     
  • Oh, and this one’s got to be read to be believed. The US cop who shot and killed Breonna Taylor in a botched raid in March is now trying to crowdfund US$75,000 for his retirement. 🤦

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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