Covid-19: Anwar proposes free face masks for Malaysians, bigger Health Ministry budget than RM150m

Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim said the Malaysian government needs to continue strengthening the capacity of the country’s healthcare system to cope with the Covid-19 infection. — Picture by Hari Anggara
Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim said the Malaysian government needs to continue strengthening the capacity of the country’s healthcare system to cope with the Covid-19 infection. — Picture by Hari Anggara

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KUALA LUMPUR, March 16 — PKR president Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim today suggested that the Health Ministry’s initial budget of RM150 million to fight the Covid-19 outbreak be further increased, proposing for the bigger budget to then be used on things such as free face masks for Malaysians.

Anwar said the Malaysian government needs to continue strengthening the capacity of the country’s healthcare system to cope with the Covid-19 infection over the short, medium and long term, arguing that this means additional funds were required for big spending on improving such capacity.

“In this regard, the budget for the Ministry of Health in the previous stimulus package needs to be increased substantially from the RM150 million already allocated.

“A key feature of this is embarking immediately on a large-scale spending programme to improve capacity. This includes — additional medical equipment and physical infrastructure for public hospitals and clinics, provision of free masks and effective hand sanitizers for the rakyat, ramping up the acquisition of test kits and medications,” the Port Dickson MP said in a press statement today.

“Let me be clear. It is the government’s responsibility to undertake these measures and the burden should not be passed to the public,” he added.

On February 27, then interim prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad announced a RM20 billion economic stimulus package to help the country cope with economic risks arising from Covid-19.

At that time, Dr Mahathir had said the Health Ministry had up to then committed RM150 million to purchase the relevant equipment, medicine and consumables in the effort to contain the Covid-19 outbreak, with the government to provide the necessary resources to ensure the disease is well-managed.

Anwar today said the sudden increase in Covid-19 cases with an additional 190 new cases yesterday was a “clear warning sign” that the local healthcare system would “struggle under the weight of an exponential spread of infection throughout the population” if decisive action is not taken immediately.

Other than his proposal to enhance the preparedness of Malaysia’s healthcare system, Anwar today also outlined two other main proposals for the country to cope with Covid-19.

Anwar proposed measures to slow the rate of the spread of the Covid-19 virus, including urging the government to immediately enforce stronger rules to enhance social distancing and to make a clear decision to halt public gatherings and suspend schools and religious observances temporarily.

Office workers are seen wearing masks along Jalan Bukit Bintang, Kuala Lumpur March 16 2020. — Picture by Choo Choy May
Office workers are seen wearing masks along Jalan Bukit Bintang, Kuala Lumpur March 16 2020. — Picture by Choo Choy May

He urged employers in both the civil service and private sector to implement work-from-home policies as much as possible.

He also suggested that Malaysia consider temporarily closing non-essential commercial and retail outlets for a period of time to control the rapid spread of the Covid-19 infection, and to encourage the use of e-commerce and e-delivery platforms to keep people away from public spaces.

“Additional foreign travel restrictions need to be adopted as the virus manifests and spreads in other countries,” he said.

As for Anwar’s third and final proposal, he warned that an economic recession is increasingly likely for Malaysia amid the Covid-19 outbreak, and suggested economic stimulus measures such as incentives for businesses that use e-commerce and delivery systems.

He also proposed an enhanced safety net for low-income households, including by increasing the cash aid amount granted to them and for banks to hold back when such households struggle with late payments on their housing loans.

Anwar, who currently leads the federal Opposition Pakatan Harapan, issued his press statement just hours before the government’s special Covid-19 meeting at 5pm today to discuss further measures to contain infections.

 

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