BEEFING UP THE FRONT LINE

SARASWATHI D/O MUNIAPPAN

KUALA LUMPUR, March 23 (Bernama) -- The government has announced a slew of new initiatives and fork out RM730 million in additional allocation, of which RM600 million would be channelled to the Ministry of Health (MOH), the frontline agency in the battle against the deadly COVID-19.

Out of the RM600 million in extra funding,  RM500 million would be utilised to purchase vital medical equipment including ventilators and Intensive Care Unit's (ICUs) devices, additional Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for public health staffs as well as equipment for labs to undertake COVID-19 test.

Besides that, an RM100 million allocation would also be set aside for the ministry to appoint 2,000 new staff on a contract basis, especially nurses.

The injection of extra funding for the healthcare sector announced today came after the government on Thursday allocated RM160 million to be channelled to 26 hospitals in the country as they race to contain the second wave of the COVID-19 outbreak. 

The move is applaudable as the government is taking a step by step approach in assessing the situation and crafting out measures according to the need of the respective sectors.

While containing fiscal deficit is key to attaining financial health, during challenging times in Malaysia and elsewhere, it is wise to cast aside such measurements and focus in overcoming the current challenges.

After all, healthcare and economy are both sides of the same coin, one cannot prosper without the other.

Hence, besides such measures, a second economic stimulus package to add on to the RM20 billion announced in late February is very much welcomed, as the first economic aid was primarily focused on industries that are directly impacted by the COVID-19 outbreak namely, tourism and hospitality.

Unfortunately, the virus is now "infecting" other industries as well. 

A back to back stimulus package is not something new to Malaysia, as it has been done before during the subprime crisis in the United States.  

Two stimulus packages were announced in a short span of five months, namely in November 2008 and March 2009 with the government announcing an injection of RM67 billion into the local economy then.

Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin in announcing the initiatives today, said these are part of a more comprehensive Economic Stimulus Package and People’s Aid slated to be announced on March 30, 2020.

As of today, Malaysia recorded a total of 1,518 cases of the Wuhan, China originated virus, of which 159 have made a full recovery while 14 succumbed to the pandemic. 

As the 14 days Movement Control Order (MCO) beginning on March 18, 2020 affected businesses, especially small traders, the government today has also agreed to allocate RM130 million to all states to help the community in their respective states.

In a move to provide more disposable income to the people, the government had earlier announced a reduction of Employee Provident Fund (EPF) contribution to 7 per cent from 11 per cent.

Additional to that, the government today announced the i-Lestari withdrawal facility for all 12 million Employees Provident Fund (EPF) contributors with an estimated withdrawal of RM40 billion.

The Prime Minister advised EPF members that would benefit from the facility to use it wisely and purchase only essential items like food during this trying time.

The government has also agreed to extend the three-month deferment period for National Higher Education Fund Corporation (PTPTN) loan repayments to six months from three months previously.

Muhyiddin said the six-month deferment, which involves a collection amounting to RM750 million, takes effect today until Sept 30. 

Besides the federal government, the respective state governments have also announced initiatives to help them deal with the matter at hand.

For instance, Selangor rolled out RM128 million stimulus package in light of COVID-19 impact, Kedah RM21 million, while Perak has set aside RM7 million in special aid for several targeted groups while Melaka government has allocated RM6.53 million to help those affected by the virus.

Besides the federal and state governments, Malaysian’s corporations are also doing their bit to help the country.

The MOH together with Tenaga Nasional Bhd (TNB) has initiated an action coalition to encourage corporate companies in Malaysia to collaborate with the government and work together to fight the pandemic.

The ‘Corporate Malaysia Against COVID-19 Action Coalition’ calls on private companies, government-linked companies (GLCs) and other organisations to pledge financial support to MOH to help replenish diminishing medical supplies as the country strives in containing the coronavirus outbreak.

As the corporation leading this call to action, TNB has pledged RM10 million to the ministry.

The national oil company, PETRONAS, through its Corporate Social Responsibility arm, Yayasan PETRONAS is contributing RM20 million worth of medical equipment and supplies to help hospitals and healthcare frontliners mitigate the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.  

Meanwhile, Maybank has also announced an immediate cash contribution of RM4 million to be channelled to MERCY Malaysia’s COVID-19 Pandemic Fund, in support of its Strategic Preparedness and Response Plan.

Every machinery in the country is doing its part to help Malaysia “recover” from this virus that has infected 292,146 people throughout the world as well as spread to more than 160 countries.

But for all these measures, be it from the federal government, states or corporation to work, the Malaysian public needs to give their fullest cooperation, in maintaining social distancing, if we want to flatten the curve of infection.

Stay indoor, patience is a virtue.

-- BERNAMA