Police officers on duty during a roadblock at the Federal Highway today. -NSTP/HAIRUL ANUAR RAHIM
KUALA LUMPUR: The country can survive another round of lockdown if the government provides a robust financial support package and boost mental health support, an economist said.
Prof Dr Jamal Othman projected that otherwise, Malaysia would lose RM256 million per day (or RM92 billion per year) of its actual Gross Domestic Product (GDP) if a four-week Movement Control Order (MCO), similar to the one in 2020, is reinstated.
This, he said, could also result in one million people losing their jobs.
“The country’s total loss of GDP in 2020 amounted to RM406 million per day (or RM146 billion per year).
“The 2020 actual GDP loss is equivalent to GDP produced by 870,000 workers on average.
“Among the supply sector, the construction sector suffered the greatest decline, followed by mining and quarry and services sector, compared to the agriculture and manufacturing sectors.
“Our economy would have suffered a greater downfall if the government did not inject the various stimulus packages,” he said, during a virtual forum hosted by Institut Masa Depan Malaysia (Institut Masa) earlier today.
Dr Jamal suggested for the government consider several measures to safeguard the economy, including by protecting small-and-medium enterprises (SME), providing wage subsidies and loan moratoriums as well as accelerating vaccination rates.
The forum, entitled “Can We Survive Another Lockdown?”, was moderated by National Journalism Laureate Tan Sri Johan Jaafar and featured several representatives from the business community and mental health experts.
They include SME Association of Malaysia’s national vice-president Chin Chee Seong, Mercy Malaysia’s Mental Health and Social Support Services consultant Dr Hariyati Shahrima Abdul Majid and Solace Asia Addiction Retreat chief executive officer and clinical director, Dr Prem Kumar Shanmugam.
Chin said, many SMEs in survival mode with zero cash flow and have dipped into their savings to keep their business running.
“In a survey we conducted which involved 1,008 SME nationwide, 40 per cent of them are contemplating to shut down their businesses despite being able to sustain operations at present.
“Some 45 per cent of the companies also indicated they might lay off employees to pull through the MCO 3.0 period.
“Since the start of the pandemic, 100,000 businesses have already closed and another 50,000 companies might fold after MCO 3.0.
“Currently, we are pushing for an automatic moratorium for six months for all affected companies. Banks should play their part because the moratorium is a temporary measure to ease our cash flow,” he said.
Mental health experts also raised concerns over the spike in cases since the pandemic hit our shores.
Nevertheless, Dr Hariyati said, the silver lining was that more Malaysians were aware of mental health issues and seeking professional help.
“Before the pandemic, one in three Malaysians were already experiencing mental health issues that had cost the country RM14.46 billion in 2018.
“Since Covid-19 hampered face-to-face counselling, Mercy Malaysia immediately launched the Psychological First Aid (PFA) hotline to help Malaysians cope with psychological distress due to MCO.
“Mercy Malaysia, with the collaboration of other agencies, have received over 120,000 calls from the public and 46.8 per cent of them were facing some psychological problems.
“Among the issues raised were work-from-home stress, distress over the loss of income and livelihoods and abusive relationship issues.
“Mercy Malaysia has also received funding to offer five free psychotherapy sessions via online to frontliners.”
Dr Hariyati also hoped the government would recognise mental health service as an essential service.
Meanwhile, Dr Prem Kumar said behavioural addiction, such as Internet addiction and virtual sex addiction, is also rising in tandem with drug abuse during the MCO period.
“We have seen a rise in drug abuse cases among Malaysians in the first six months of 2020, mainly to numb emotions and suppress their pain.
“Addiction thrives on isolation. Without healthy interpersonal connections, drugs and alcohol become ‘best friends’ for people.”