KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 15 — It’s a curious thing to say but this time round, the movement control order imposed on five states and the federal territories feels different.
Unlike the first one last March which saw everything shut down except for essential businesses — eateries, markets, supermarkets, pharmacies — this time round, you can go buy a gold necklace or scented candle should you desire.
1 Utama Shopping Centre pointed out in its Facebook posting that “our retailers are staying open so you can stock up on bath bombs... and even pamper yourself (and your other half) with bags, accessories... just to keep sane during MCO 2.0.”
So, it looks like retail therapy is still available — if not actively encouraged — during this MCO. This despite the constant reminders by the authorities to stay home and only go out to get essential items in order to break the chain of infection within the community.
Malay Mail’s visit to Mid Valley Megamall and The Gardens Mall yesterday found several businesses not categorised as essential services allowed to operate after obtaining permission from the International Trade and Industry Ministry (Miti).
Footwear boutique Jelly Bunny was operating with minimal staff and in full compliance of the standard operating procedure (SOP).
“Most of our walk-in customers are shoppers from the supermarket downstairs,” the boutique’s supervisor who wanted to be known as Azila said.
Acknowledging that footwear is not an essential item, she said allowing walk-ins ensures customers buy the correct-sized shoes which may not be the case if purchased online.
“Yes, we do have our online store on Lazada e-commerce platform but some of them insist on coming into the physical store to try out the merchandise,” she replied when asked.
Several shuttered shoplots away, it was also business as usual at Habib Jewels as several customers could be seen browsing jewellery.
“Most of the walk-ins we have are those with prior appointments and shoppers doing their grocery shopping downstairs,” a supervisor who declined to be named told Malay Mail.
What is even more perplexing is that even gift stores such as S&J Co. and Lovely Lace were also seen operating in the near-empty shopping mall.
When approached, retail staff who declined to be named said one of the reasons for them to remain open is to facilitate online orders made by customers as well as walk-ins if necessary.
They further explained that merchandise is sorted and packaged at their respective stores before they are given to couriers for delivery to their respective customers.
“I think walk-ins are very minimal, around two or three people. Mostly staff working nearby or shoppers doing their grocery run at the supermarket downstairs,” a S&J Co. staff member said briefly.
“We were closed yesterday but management decided to open the store today after obtaining permission from Miti.
“I think they wanted to gauge the number of walk-ins for these few days to see if we should continue to open the store throughout the MCO,” a store supervisor at Lovely Lace explained.
Three other beauty and skincare outlets — Neal’s Yard Remedies, TNS Skin Lab and Ken’s Apothecary — also said they were operating to primarily facilitate online orders and potential walk-ins.
Despite all these businesses being allowed to operate with Miti’s permission, optometry and optical services are not. One could argue they are certainly more essential than say... jewellery.
The Malaysian Association of Practising Opticians (Mapo), in a letter addressed to Senior Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob, urged the government to reconsider its decision to reclassify optical services during the MCO.
Ikea, the giant home furnishing store, is also allowed to be open although a visit to its Cheras outlet yesterday saw very few shoppers.
A lockdown is particularly hard on retail but this “relaxation” by MITI for certain businesses seems to be sending those of us living in these MCO states a mixed message: come for a little retail therapy when you are bored?
Perhaps it would be wiser for us as consumers to limit in-person retail therapy for the time being until the MCO is over and the daily caseloads come down.
Yesterday, daily Covid-19 cases were at a record 3,337 with 15 deaths.
With the next two weeks arguably the most crucial for Malaysia to try and break the chain of infection, only time and discipline will tell if our efforts truly work.