Haphazard MCO extension leaves Malaysians frustrated and businesses in dread

With the extension also spanning the Chinese New Year festival on February 12 and 13, businesses expressed fear that this phase of the MCO could be the straw that breaks the camel's back. — Picture by Ahmad Zamzahuri
With the extension also spanning the Chinese New Year festival on February 12 and 13, businesses expressed fear that this phase of the MCO could be the straw that breaks the camel's back. — Picture by Ahmad Zamzahuri

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KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 3 — The government’s extension of the movement control order (MCO) to February 18 without new strategies to combat Covid-19 has led to open questions about its capability to steer the country out of the pandemic safely.

Disquiet about the effectiveness of the MCO already existed prior to yesterday’s extension, bolstered by the government’s permission for an assortment of business sectors to remain open and the continued rise in new Covid-19 cases locally.

Malaysians online openly wondered if the government has any plan to contain the pandemic beyond waiting for the arrival of vaccines in the country.

As quarantine fatigue sets in, others also asked what was the point of them staying home when the government appeared set on reopening up as many economic sectors as possible notwithstanding new Covid-19 cases in the thousands daily.

Former deputy agriculture minister Sim Tze Tzin encapsulated the public sentiment with a post online.

“There is no leadership, no clear plan, no clarity in fighting #COVID19. Another 14 days of MCO separuh masak will fail again,” the Bayan Baru MP said.

Even before the extension, medical experts already lamented the lack of openness about Malaysia’s Covid-19 situation, saying available expertise in the country was going to waste because the authorities would not be transparent.

With the extension also spanning the Chinese New Year festival on February 12 and 13, businesses expressed fear that this phase of the MCO could be the straw that breaks the camel's back.

Despite CNY falling right in the middle of the extension, the applicable standard operating procedures were not announced yesterday as these were still being drafted.

Kuala Lumpur Hawkers and Petty Traders Association chairperson Ang Say Tee said the extension has left traders, particularly those who have stocked up for the Chinese New Year, in a serious predicament.

Ang told the Malaysiakini news portal that while traders took precautions by halving their orders this year, it now appeared that even this would be difficult, if not impossible to shift because of the MCO.

“If this continues, traders may not die of illness, but will starve to death,” he was quoted as saying by Malaysiakini.

After yesterday’s announcement, major trade groups also banded together to excoriate the government for continually keeping such announcements late, leaving businesses with little time to adjust their operations to adapt.

Senior Defence Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob announced yesterday that the MCO will be extended until February 18, the second extension since the order was first placed on five states and all federal territories on January 13.

Health director-general Tan Sri Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah previously asserted that the MCO would last a maximum of four weeks.

Yesterday, he also reported 3,455 new Covid-19 infections, the first time daily case numbers have gone below 5,000 in four days.

For comparison, there were 2,232 new Covid-19 cases when Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin announced the MCO on January 11.

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