Army deployment soon?
Drastic enforcement threat
There were positive signs of compliance with the MCO yesterday as IGP Abdul Hamid Bador, along with his state and district police chiefs, made police presence felt at roadblocks and other places, and Rela members helped to enforce the order.
A survey also showed that there was less traffic on all roads, with people only moving around to get essentials or buy food to take home, in stark contrast to the first day of the MCO. Senior Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob said police were taking an advisory role for now, but could resort to more stringent methods later.
But was this enough? Health Minister Dr Adham Baba hinted at tighter controls of the MCO today should nothing have improved yesterday. According to him, only 60% of people complied with the MCO measures on Wednesday, the first day of the restrictions.
“We will be told” how many percent had complied on the second day, he says, with stern action possible if the numbers do not improve. And, if the outbreak worsens, Adham said there was a possibility of a total lockdown like the one imposed in China.
Earlier in the day, Ismail Sabri, the Defence Minister, also quoted the 60% compliance rate (we don’t know where they are getting their numbers, but we’ll give them the benefit of the doubt for now), adding that there was a possibility the army could be called in to help enforce the MCO. The soldiers, he said, would be mostly stationed in rural areas.
And don’t you doubt it either, as armoured vehicles were seen in certain areas. Chief of Defence Forces (CDF) General Affendi Buang said the deployment of the vehicles were for training purposes; the armed forces top brass has decided that operations, training and courses, exercise, administration and logistics need to be refined based on the MCO.
How is this possible? Well, the MCO is under the purview of the National Security Council (NSC). And, as CDF, Affendi is on the council , together with the IGP, PM (who is the chair), Defence, Communications & Multimedia, and Foreign ministers as well as the Chief Secretary to the Government.
Let’s hope that if they do deploy solders, it doesn’t cause panic – something Affendi himself acknowledges could happen.
The warnings of more stringent enforcement of the MCO comes amidst news that the number of Covid-19 cases in the country has risen by 110 to 900, with 20 cases in ICU. Of the new cases, 63 were traced back to the tabligh gathering in Sri Petaling, bringing that particular cluster to 576. On the brighter side, another 15 people have fully recovered and were discharged, bringing the total number to 75.
However, one person who has gone into self quarantine is none other than nonagenarian ex-PM-twice-over Dr Mahathir Mohamad, who had previously come into contact with infected Bandar Kuching MP Dr Kelvin Yii. Here’s hoping he doesn’t contract the illness since his advanced age makes him especially vulnerable.
Yesterday was the fifth day in a row that we experienced a triple-digit increase in patients, and a sixth today will see us hit or surpass the 1,000-case mark. And that is most likely to be the case. Some 10,650 attendees of the tabligh have been traced so far, but fewer than half of the number have been tested. So the question is when we will breach the 1,000 mark, and not if. Meanwhile, this fascinating piece details how the Sri Petaling tabligh became Southeast Asia’s Covid-19 hotspot.
As for the Malaysians who attended another tabligh, this time in Sulawesi, our embassy in Jakarta has its hands full trying to trace them (and hopefully to give them a few tight slaps). It was reported earlier that at least 80 Malaysians attended the gathering, which has since been postponed.
One Malaysian who attended the gathering said he would remain in Indonesia until the MCO was over. Just as well, considering the government has decided that all the Malaysians returning from the gathering would be put in quarantine centres for 14 days when they return.
Meanwhile, all the passengers of a Plusliner express bus from Johor Bahru to Kuantan who traveled together with a man who later tested positive for Covid-19 have been traced. However, no details have been given as to whether any of these have also tested positive.
It wasn’t all doom and gloom yesterday, however, as we learned that the first batch of medical supplies promised by China has arrived in Malaysia and was delivered to Sungai Buloh Hospital. These supplies included ventilators, face masks, testing kits and sanitisers.
The health of our wallets
PM Muhyiddin has announced that another RM160 million has been allocated to fight the second wave of Covid-19 infections nationwide, to purchase medical and non-medical assets. This would be on top of the RM259 million already approved for the Health Ministry.
Meanwhile, Bank Negara Malaysia (BNM) announced a 100-basis-point cut in the statutory reserve requirement (SRR) ratio from 3% to 2%, effective today. This is the second cut in just a few months. In November, there was a 50bps cut to 3%, releasing an estimated RM7.4 billion liquidity into the banking system. The SRR is non-interest bearing balances that commercial banks are required to keep with the central bank. A lower SRR would mean a lower amount to be set aside and this would reduce the banks’ cost of funds as the excess funds could be used for lending purposes.
But perhaps the biggest question of all is whether the stock market should be closed, considering the beating the KLCI has been taking of late. Bursa Malaysia ended 1.56% lower yesterday, the KLCI having lost 19.29 points to close at 1,219.72.
That brought to the fore earlier suggestions that Malaysia follow the lead of the Philippines in closing the markets. But asset managers objected to this, saying that suspending share trading would only serve to make an already volatile market even more so.
In the end, the Securities Commission and Bursa seemed to agree with the asset managers, coming out to say things would continue as is. Market operations would continue, they said, so as to allow investors to manage the risks and opportunities during the MCO.
Pakatan has been seized this advantage to play the role they’re seemingly best cut out for – populist opposition politicians. Pakatan leaders have called for a three-month moratorium on loan repayments. They say this would help safeguard employees and companies who have taken loans, especially during these trying times, adding that the huge profits banks make would allow them to cushion the losses.
Meanwhile, Pakatan’s Lembah Pantai MP Fahmi Fadzil, has called on the FT Ministry to extend the moratorium on monthly rentals for businesses in KL to include poor families living in people’s housing projects (PPR) and public housing (PA). City Hall can afford to absorb this, no?
While we wait on whether these suggestions from Pakatan would be taken up by the Perikatan gomen, here’s a bit of (somewhat) good news for TNB consumers. All consumers will be getting discounts on their TNB bills from April till Sept 30, though there are varying amounts depending on what type of account holder you are.
Six business sectors impacted directly by the Covid-19 outbreak – hotel operators; travel and tourism agencies; shopping complexes; convention centres; theme parks; and, local airlines offices – will receive the biggest discount of 15%; while commercial, industrial and agricultural consumers, as well as domestic consumers will receive a 2% discount. While we understand the huge impact Covid-19 has had on the six sectors, we gotta ask why such a huge disparity. Especially when it comes to domestic consumers, some of whom will be losing a lot during the MCO as they are daily wage earners. A 2% discount is a drop in the ocean, and RM3 saved on a bill of RM150 is barely gonna get you a roti canai and teh tarik.
And lastly, Unifi has offered free access to all its channels as Malaysians stay at home these next few days. The only question is: who in God’s name watches Unifi??!?
All other (Covid-19) matters arising
As we’ve already highlighted before, there has been finger-pointing among politicians as to who to blame for the current mess we’re in. And yesterday was no different.
Ex-PM Najib Razak and former FT Minister Khalid Samad engaged in “banter”, with the latter blaming the Perikatan gomen for the shitstorm we’re facing, saying the second wave of infections began at a time when the country was in political chaos after Perikatan had taken over but PM8 Muhyiddin Yassin had yet to form his Cabinet.
PM6 Jibby took exception to this, saying the Pakatan government had not made any move to enforce stringent measures and that the majority of the second wave came from the Sri Petaling tabligh, which was held at a time when Pakatan was still in government, though PM7 Dr Mahathir Mohamad had already resigned and was interim glorious leader – basically, there was no government other than Maddey.
And while Najib said Perikatan did not blame Mahathir for the second wave, Khalid responded to the Jibster, reminding him that Muhyiddin had been Home Minister during Pakatan’s administration, and that he was busy plotting the Sheraton Move and was too busy to look into the tabligh. What the Home Minister has to do with the tabligh is beyond us, but OK.
Really, at a time when all should be coming together to work things out and get us poor plebes through this outbreak of infections, we hate to see our politicians blaming each other for what has happened. Enough with the politicking. It serves no purpose to blame anyone. If you have something constructive to say, say it. If not, STFU already!
Meanwhile, DAP adviser and, some say, supreme leader, Lim Kit Siang says PM Moo should go live on telly every day to update Malaysians about Covid-19. Twice daily, should the need arise.
OK, to be fair, Uncle Kit did make some valid points. Every minister, he said, should be focused on winning the war against Covid-19, and the Cabinet should have daily meetings to this end. The war of containment, he said, had been lost, but Malaysia needed to win the war of mitigation.
Meanwhile, here are some other things to do with Covid-19 which came out yesterday:
- The government has eased the MCO for the palm oil, rubber and logging sectors to allow some work to continue on skeletal crews. The first two are to allow for processing of cooking oil and rubber for medical supplies, respectively. The concession for logging is only for those with existing and ongoing contracts.
- Malaysians of Chinese descent have been advised to forego the tradition of sweeping graves and tombs during Qing Ming so as to avoid catching or spreading Covid-19.
- Some Malaysians working in Singapore have taken to sleeping at MRT stations as they have nowhere to stay and can’t come back here as they would be barred from re-entering the island republic.
- The Malaysian High Commission in India has arranged for special flights for Malaysians stranded in the South Asian nation. More than 800 Malaysians are said to be stranded in various countries after travel bans were issued, with most of these being in India.
- The Panguni Uthiram festival in Maran, Pahang has been cancelled this year. The Hindu event usually attracts over 450,000 devotees, some of whom walk 204km from Batu Caves to the Sri Marathandavar Aalayam in Sg Jerik.
“Isn't it a bit unnerving that doctors call what they do practice?”
- George Carlin -
IN INTERNATIONAL NEWS
- Almost 235,000 people have been infected with Covid-19 globally, with at least 9,728 deaths. Italy, meanwhile, has registered 3,405 deaths from the virus, surpassing mainland China’s total of 3,242. You can keep track of global statistics involving Covid-19 with this Reuters tracker here.
- WHO says a Covid-19 vaccine trial has begun, though it didn’t disclose where the trial was taking place. Experts, however, say the trial could take between 12 and 18 months to be completed.
- Hokkaido has ended its state of emergency, with schools in Japan set to reopen. However, Australia has decided to close its borders, the latest country to do so.
- Saudi Arabia has suspended prayers in arenas surrounding its two holy mosques in Mecca and Medina.
- Meanwhile, the coronavirus outbreak continues to affect sports competitions worldwide. The Monaco F1 GP has been canceled, the fifth after the season-opening Australian last weekend and the races in Bahrain, Vietnam and China. Organisers have also postponed the races in the Netherlands and Spain in the hopes that they can still be held later on in the year. Meanwhile, the English Football League has extended the temporary shutdown of its season to at least April 30.