KUALA LUMPUR, March 23 — Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad today gave a grim assessment of Malaysia’s situation amid the global Covid-19 pandemic, calling it a “terrible catastrophe.”
He also raised the possibility of the government needing to financially assist Malaysians who are losing their livelihood as a result of the country’s two-week shutdown of non-essential businesses.
Dr Mahathir noted how travel restrictions will have a great impact on Malaysia’s tourism industry, which is a key income generator for both the government and for Malaysians.
“The airlines would suffer. The tourist industry would suffer. The hotels’ ground transport, restaurants would suffer. Employees would suffer as they may be laid off. Their employers will not be earning enough money to pay them.
“For Malaysia the tourist industry is the second biggest foreign exchange earner, after Petronas. The government would lose a lot of revenue.
“People working in the tourist industry would lose jobs and income. This would be terrible because these people need food and drink,” the former prime minister wrote in a Facebook post today.
On top of that, Dr Mahathir noted that government revenue would also be hurt by the currently low global oil prices, as petroleum is a key contributor to the country’s revenue.
Dr Mahathir said that the government’s economic stimulus package to help Malaysia cope with the effects of the Covid-19 outbreak also involves an increase in government spending and a decrease in taxes, noting that it would be challenging for the government to meet these extra expenditures with the decrease in government revenue.
“In the meantime, even a partial lockdown would reduce business and profits. Again, government revenue would be affected,” he said, having described the two-week movement control order that is imposed in Malaysia now as a “partial lockdown.”
“For the small enterprises, the loss would be terrible. These people earn today for today. Even if they are able to do some business it would not be sufficient to pay for their food. The government may have to give them financial support.
“What is happening in Malaysia is happening to the rest of the world also. Industries may have to stop or at least reduce production. Exports and imports would be affected. Economies would go into recession worldwide. Even the richest countries would suffer,” he added.
“Truly we all are faced with a terrible catastrophe,” he concluded.
Earlier today, Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin announced a fresh set of initiatives to help Malaysians cope financially with the Covid-19 outbreak and the resulting movement control order.
These new measures are on top of the government’s RM20 billion economic stimulus package previously announced on February 27 to tackle the economic slowdown caused by the Covid-19 outbreak, as well as other measures announced on May 16.
Muhyiddin said a more comprehensive economic stimulus package and further aid for Malaysians may be announced on March 30.
Close contact with Covid-19 case
Earlier in the same post, Dr Mahathir also spoke about how he unknowingly came into close contact with an individual who would later test positive for Covid-19.
He said he met a group of young MPs from Pakatan Harapan on March 12 and they had asked to take a group photo with him.
“I did not think much of it. I did not think they would be infected. They crowded around me, closely so as to be in the photo,” he said.
Dr Mahathir said his assistant on March 17 informed him that one of the Sarawak MPs in the photo had tested positive for Covid-19, adding that he again did not think much of it and that he was “feeling well.”
“Indeed, many visitors remarked on how well I looked. But the authorities thought differently. A team of doctors and nurses arrived at the Perdana Leadership Foundation where I was working and stopped me as I was going home for lunch.
“They took a swab and told me I had to be quarantined for 14 days from date of contact. And so here I am, home-quarantined. I had been talking to people to be serious about this pandemic. I have even done a video clip. Now I must be serious and accept being quarantined,” he said, before warning of the grave dangers of the Covid-19 virus especially to the elderly.
No cure for Covid-19 now, risky for elderly
“This coronavirus is something that we never had before. It is easily infectious or contagious and in a number of cases it is fatal. We have no medicine or vaccine to counter it. All we can do is to treat symptoms like fever, cough, breathlessness and if there is lung infection and you are old, you may die. I am old, 94 years old.
“The threat posed by Covid-19 is due to ease of infection and possible death. To manage the infection or contagion, it is necessary to isolate people. They must avoid being close to each other. Since we usually do not know who has the virus, everyone has to be far apart from each other,” Dr Mahathir said.
Yesterday, an aide reportedly confirmed that Dr Mahathir tested negative for Covid-19 but that he is still required to follow the requirement of being quarantined for 14 days.