Malaysia Extends RMCO Until Year-End and Reactions Were Predictably Mixed

PM Muhyiddin announces the four-month extension of the RMCO | Image Credit: RTM
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288 days.

That’s how long Malaysia will have lived under some form of movement control order by the time the calendar flips to 2021, ranging from a near-complete lockdown to a considerably more relaxed approach with plenty of standard operating procedures still put in place.

Given the extraordinary circumstances of a global pandemic that is still raging in a number of countries, some feel Malaysia’s caution is warranted. Others aren’t quite so sure. But nearly everyone is united in thinking the entire planet should get a complete do-over for 2020, which is rapidly shaping up to become a lost year, with the worst side effects very possibly not becoming truly evident until 2021.

The extension of the Recovery Movement Control Order (RMCO) was announced on August 28, just as the long Merdeka holiday weekend kicked off, with Prime Minister Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin saying that with the extension of the RMCO period, enforcement action under the Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases Act 1988, or Act 342, could still be taken. This should cause Malaysians no small concern, as scarcely a day goes by even now without dozens, or indeed hundreds, being charged with violating the RMCO, some being hit with RM1,000 compounds, others being remanded on the spot.

“This is to ensure that all parties comply with the Standard Operating Procedures and health protocols set,” the Prime Minister said in a special message on the latest developments of RMCO which was broadcast on local television channels in the country.

How long will scenes like this go on? | Image Credit: ABC News

“Our country is still facing a bitter challenge in dealing with the spread of the Covid-19 [pandemic], taking into account that the virus is still actively spreading around the world,” Muhyiddin said. “Looking at the cases that occur abroad, the virus is not only still active, but is also spreading rapidly on a large scale.”

However, the decision was immediately questioned by plenty of netizens on social media, along with at least one local think tank, the Centre for Market Education (CME), saying the extension wasn’t warranted based on the current data and ongoing trends.

Carmelo Felito, the CME Head, said in a prepared statement, “First of all, the Covid-19 numbers in Malaysia are under control. In the past two months, the seven-day moving average of daily Covid-19 cases in Malaysia has been constantly below 15, while the seven-day moving average of daily deaths has been below 0.14 and never above zero since Aug 7. This means that there is no spike to be recorded and people are not dying.” [Editor’s note, Sept. 2: Three new deaths have been recorded since the CME statement was released.]

In his statement, Felito recognised the efforts and successes of Malaysia’s government authorities and the country’s healthcare system in mitigating and containing the pandemic.

The statement also noted the potential for widespread economic disruption and even unintended consequences from extending the RMCO for so long.

“The damage that can be inflicted on the economy and the people with the closed borders can be far bigger,” the CME statement read, continuing, “With the end of the loan moratorium and wage subsidies, and with the end of the natural rebound following the reopening of the economy, an economic relapse in Q4 2020 is very much likely to happen and this will cause a rise in unemployment again.”

Continued border closure could devastate numerous businesses | Image Credit: The Star

Ferlito’s statement added a call for the government to set policies that, in effect, acknowledged the need for trade-offs and sound analyses to drive policymaking.

“The benefits of a certain measure are important, but the potential negative consequences are important, too, and the two sides of the coin need to be weighed together in order to make balanced decisions. The conflict here is not between lives and the economy, as the economy is made of lives, too.”

Meanwhile, former finance minister and current DAP MP Lim Guan Eng has called on the government to inject a further RM45 billion in a stimulus package to save the economy, also making the case for an additional six-month loan payment moratorium, which he says would help millions. He reasoned that the government shouldn’t extend the RMCO without likewise extending the loan moratorium and increasing the stimulus package, too.

“Things will get worse without a government’s stimulus packages, wage subsidies and bank moratoriums,” Lim stated. “It is clear that an additional RM45 billion is needed to be injected to the already existing RM45 billion fund (a total of RM90 billion) to save not only the jobs of Malaysians and SMEs, but also manufacturers.”

DAP secretary general Lim Guan Eng speaks at a press conference | Image Credit: Firdaus Latif via FMT

As of August 31, Malaysia has logged 9,340 confirmed Covid-19 cases, with a total of 127 deaths. Currently, 9,054 of the cases have resulted in recovery.

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