Pockets have been hit hard by Covid-19 and the Movement Control Order. And shockingly, the government now wants workers to dip into their own savings to deal with the loss of revenue. Elsewhere, Malaysia registers a record increase of Covid-19 cases and sees many more deaths. Lastly, if all this social distancing is making you miss your fellow humans, you may want to head over to Twitter. Yes, we know it can be full of horrible nonsense sometimes, but it also has Juan Mata's sweetness, Jim Carrey's weirdness, Patrick Stewart's artsiness, random time-wasting games, music playlist suggestions and just delightfully weird humour. Enjoy.

Adding insult to injury

Problematic solutions

With growing fears of over a million Malaysians potentially becoming jobless as a result of the Covid-19 crisis, PM Muhyiddin Yassin has announced extra financial measures to help workers cope with these uncertain time. Promising that a more comprehensive stimulus package would be announced on March 30, Moo nevertheless offered a teaser of the interim measures the government is putting in place. 

These include:

  • Allowing workers below 55 to withdraw up to RM500 monthly from their Employees Provident Fund accounts for up to 12 months
     
  • An injection of RM500 million to the Health Ministry for the procurement of ventilators as well as intensive care unit, lab and personal protective equipment
     
  • An additional RM100 million allocation to enable the hiring of up to 2,000 contract healthcare workers
     
  • A RM130 million allocation to be divided among the country’s 13 states, including those held by the Opposition, to aid small traders, Covid-19 victims and front-liners
     
  • A moratorium on PTPN loan repayments for up to six months

Now, yes, some of these measures – like the aid to healthcare workers who’ve been forced to fashion makeshift protective suits from garbage bags – are indeed welcome. And really, we’re all for giving these superheroes every single sen they need. However, the EPF provision, which will see some RM40 billion being freed up over the next year, is highly questionable.

According to the PM, allowing EPF contributors to dip into their savings for the next year will help ease the burden from the Covid-19 pandemic and the ensuing Movement Control Order. However, while it’s true that many folks who’ve lost sources of income during this period could do with an extra RM500 in their pockets, the move does, as the Malaysian Trades Union Congress put it, seem terribly shortsighted.

For a start, EPF funds comprise money people have been required by law to put aside for retirement. So allowing them access to this cash now is actually making them agree to drain their savings. Yes, we get it. The argument is that the millions of Malaysians who’ve been hit hard by the crisis need cash now. But does that mean the government should tell them it’s okay to take care of the present by messing up their future?

Furthermore, it transpires that despite the PM’s claim that this all aimed at helping the good people of Malaysia, it’s actually gonna do jack for nearly half the EPF contributors. The withdrawable funds, Moo says, will be from Account 2 only. However, Christopher Choong, a Khazanah Research Institute economist, notes that about 40% of EPF members, who have lower savings, will run out of cash well before the 12 months are up.

Choong suggests instead the introduction of broad measures to benefit not just EPF contributors, but also hawkers, petty traders and countless others who’re outside the EPF system. Question is, is MooMoo even considering this as part of next week’s stimulus package announcement? Or will this government, once again, fail the majority of Malaysians while certain fat cats, obviously delighted justice is being delayed thanks to Covid-19, indulge in their obscene wealth and munch on junk food.

Extended MCO possible as numbers go up

record increase of 212 new Covid-19 cases was registered on Monday as Malaysia logged four more deaths, two of which are linked to the tabligh gathering at a mosque in Seri Petaling late last month.

The new figures bring the total number of infections in the country to 1,518, while the death toll stands at 14. Worse, we could potentially be staring at lots more fatalities, as the number of patients in intensive care has shot up from 46 on Sunday to 57 yesterday, with 27 of them requiring ventilators. 

The stats make for distressing reading, really. However, if there’s one bit of good news, it’s that 159 people have to date recovered, with two Suhakam commissioners and Bandar Kuching MP Kelvin Yii – the guy who was suspected to have infected former PM Dr Mahathir Mohamad – among the latest to be discharged.

Regardless of that sliver of sunshine though, there’s concern that the rise in the number of cases overall may force the government to extend the Movement Control Order beyond March 31. The PM has clarified, of course, that nothing is set as yet. However, a decision will certainly need to be made if there’s no sign of a reduction in cases.

Moo had, actually, already warned last week in his duduk diam-diam di rumah address that the MCO could be extended if the objective of containing the outbreak was not met. However, a reminder of this, as a well as local experts calling for at least six weeks of restricted movement, did cause a fair amount of distress among Malaysians yesterday and even resulted in Bursa Malaysia losing much of the gains it’d made at the end of last week.

Truth be told, the World Health Organization’s latest statement that the pandemic is picking up pace, suggests we could well be staring at a longer MCO if not a full lockdown at the end of the current period. However, if strict rules work – like they appear to be doing in Germany – then it’s certainly something the Muhyiddin administration needs to consider.

Meanwhile, it seems while cops here go all out to locate the remaining Seri Petaling tabligh participants with authorities classifying the mosque where the gathering was held a red zone, over 100 Malaysian attendees of a cancelled tabligh event in Indonesia have returned home and been placed in quarantine. There’s no news yet, though, if any of them are coronavirus-positive.

Incidentally, the global infection and fatality numbers now stand at 375,313 and 16,361.

And for the rest of the news ...

A whole load of other Covid-19 things made the news on Monday, and here’s a list of the more important stuff:

  • Health D-G Noor Hisham Abdullah, quoting a WHO advisory, has stressed once more that there’s no necessity for healthy people to don face masks in public, noting that social distancing is more than enough. In any case, PM Moo says the 10 million face masks being ordered from China will be distributed to Malaysians free of charge.
     
  • The Health Ministry has also confirmed that the Covid-19 tests, which cost RM700, is available for free for everybody, even foreigners. Here’s how the test works.
     
  • Meanwhile, the Health Ministry is recalling retired docs and nurses to aid frontliners in Malaysia’s fight against Covid-19. Noor Hisham says the government is looking to enlist at least 2,000 skilled professionals ASAP.
     
  • Speaking of docs, a bunch of prominent doctors, NGO heads and other smart people have formed the Malaysian Health Coalition and have come up with some pretty good suggestions for the gomen.
     
  • Major hypermarkets and supermarkets chains have adjusted operating hours for the remainder of the MCO with the likes of Giant, Tesco Malaysia, Aeon Big and Aeon announcing that most of their outlets will be shut by 8pm daily. Public transport operating hours will also be limited from tomorrow onwards.
     
  • The Human Resources Ministry has warned bosses against cutting the salaries of employees or forcing them to take annual leave during the MCO. The Ministry says workers will be eligible to take action against their employers in the event of such breaches.
     
  • A mechanic has become the first person to be charged in relation to the MCO. S. Punniamurthy, from Sungai Siput, was fined RM5,000, or 10 months’ jail in default, for obstructing a police officer from discharging his duties when he refused to produce identification upon being asked and assaulted the cop.
     
  • Is Umno troublemaker Jamal Yunos a.k.a. Jamal Jamban back in action? Well what are claimed to be pics from a briefing attended by Warm Water Minister Dr Adham Baba show the Sungai Besar Umno leader in attendance. Hmmm. Maybe it’s ’cos Jamal’s particular about cleanliness. But here’s also what’s interesting about this: the only outlet to carry the pic was the unheard of Malaysia Dateline, which is “designed by” an outfit called Media Oren Production – the same company which “designed” Parti Amanah Negara’s website. Which would explain why Malaysia Dateline’s content is essentially a bunch of anti-government, pro-Pakatan and, especially, pro-Amanah propaganda.

“Great occasions do not make heroes or cowards; they simply unveil them to our eyes.”

- Brooke Foss Westcott -

IN INTERNATIONAL NEWS

  • While the International Olympic Committee hems and haws about postponing this summer’s Tokyo Games, Canada and Australia say they won’t be sending their athletes to Japan even if the Olympics are a go.
     
  • The United Kingdom is the latest country to order a lockdown. The three-week order was issued following a sharp rise in the number of Covid-19 related deaths and cases in the country. The UK’s death toll now stands at 335 with more than 6,000 people infected.
     
  • The United States’ top infectious disease expert, Dr Anthony Faci, has highlighted the challenges of working with Donald Trump in a new issue of Science, saying he can’t jump in front of the mic and correct the president every time the orange one spews rubbish on Covid-19.
     
  • Despite all the evidence to the contrary, Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro claims the Covid-19 crisis is just “a little flu” that’s been blown out of proportion by the media.
     
  • Meanwhile, mayors across Italy are raging against people dodging lockdown rules despite the country’s rising death toll. This hilarious compilation vid will clue you in on just what these frustrated fellows have had to deal with.

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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