With EMCO starting tomorrow, those who have been struggling to survive in Kuala Lumpur’s surrounds face even more uncertainty

·9-min read
Drink seller Remy Iskandar Sulaiman, 43, speaks to Malay Mail during an interview at UTC Sentul July 2, 2020. — Picture by Hari Anggara
Drink seller Remy Iskandar Sulaiman, 43, speaks to Malay Mail during an interview at UTC Sentul July 2, 2020. — Picture by Hari Anggara

KUALA LUMPUR, July 2 — As several localities just outside of the capital city brace for an enhanced movement control order (EMCO) which starts at midnight, many who live in these areas and rely on daily wages shared they have more pressing concerns that go beyond just trying to avoid Covid-19.

Relying on the RM50 to RM60 earned daily from his roadside dessert stall is Remy Iskander Sulaiman’s “new normal.”

The 43-year-old former courier driver told Malay Mail that is how he has been surviving daily and feeding his six children.

Remy, who had his younger son with him when we visited his Kampung Batu Muda stall, was unabashed about admitting the amount comes nowhere close to being able to support a family his size but related how he doesn’t have many other options.

“I have six children, and with RM50 to RM60 a day... it is never going to be enough, but even with the little that we get, it is better than not getting anything by staying at home.

“As for the EMCO we have to just wait and see tomorrow (Saturday), if we are not allowed here we just have to look for another place to open. I cannot rely on the government and their handouts, I have to keep hustling to feed my family.”

Remy said his venture into business has been riddled with bad luck, with his first business lasting only 25 days, after quitting his part-time job with DHL.

A drop in packages being sent and a consequent cut in wages left him with no choice..

“After I quit the courier job around April, I entered the bazaar business for Ramadan month but 25 days later I had to close and have been operating this dessert stall for the last two months,” he said.

Cendol seller, Rosnah Sofian, 50, (left) and Mohd Aiman Firdaus 18 speak to Malay Mail during an interview at UTC Sentul July 2, 2020. — Picture by Hari Anggara
Cendol seller, Rosnah Sofian, 50, (left) and Mohd Aiman Firdaus 18 speak to Malay Mail during an interview at UTC Sentul July 2, 2020. — Picture by Hari Anggara

Nearby was a cendol and fried noodle food truck business operated by mother-son duo Rosnah Sofian, 50, and Mohd Sofian Firdaus,18.

“I don’t know where I am going to open shop tomorrow, maybe somewhere in Sentul, but even in other places, business is not great, I barely make enough to get by,” said Rosnah.

“We even got our business on delivery services like Foodpanda and Grab, but that has not brought much difference,” she added, saying business in 2021 has been dismal with the best sales day bringing in just about 40 per cent of what they made pre-pandemic.

Over in Bandar Baru Sentul, local market vendors had mixed feelings about the tightened lockdown; some were relieved after many other market vendors tested positive, but some were also deflated at the thought of their shrinking sales set to diminish further.

Bandar Baru Sentul, which includes the Sentul Urban Transformation Centre (UTC), like Kampung Batu Muda, is one of the 14 localities in Kuala Lumpur that will be put under EMCO tonight following yesterday’s announcement by Senior Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob.

Meanwhile, 34 localities spanning across eight districts in Selangor will undergo EMCO as well.

Vegetable seller Kim speaks to Malay Mail during an interview at UTC Sentul July 2, 2020. — Picture by Hari Anggara
Vegetable seller Kim speaks to Malay Mail during an interview at UTC Sentul July 2, 2020. — Picture by Hari Anggara

“Since the start of the year, business has been really slow, and with this EMCO, if we are forced to close, that might just be the end of it,” said Madam Kim, a vegetable stall operator at the Sentul UTC wet market.

She said it was disappointing having to undergo even tighter restrictions, lamenting the endless policy U-turns and various lockdowns.

“This time we will just wait for instructions from the KL City Hall (DBKL) whether we can open or not, it will be hard if we have to close because things were just picking up,” she added.

Meat vendor Sally speaks to Malay Mail during an interview at UTC Sentul July 2, 2020. — Picture by Hari Anggara
Meat vendor Sally speaks to Malay Mail during an interview at UTC Sentul July 2, 2020. — Picture by Hari Anggara

Next door, a butcher who wished to be identified as Kak Sally, told Malay Mail how the EMCO seemed right for health reasons but bad for businesses.

“I feel it’s a good time because the chicken seller next door tested positive for Covid-19 and on the other side, several other vendors also caught the coronavirus.

“Of course we prefer not to go into the EMCO, but my opinions are only my thoughts, they won’t change anything,” she said.

As for the cashier of the Al Malek restaurant down the road from the UTC, the EMCO comes almost two months too late for him, asserting the government had blundered when they delayed implementing the lockdown before the fasting month of Ramadan.

“If they started the EMCO in April, things would have been better by now. It just shows politicians are not that smart when it comes to health problems; the people seem to know better,” he exclaimed.

Restaurant owner Mohd Faisal Abdullah, 28, speaks to Malay Mail during an interview at UTC Sentul July 2, 2020. — Picture by Hari Anggara
Restaurant owner Mohd Faisal Abdullah, 28, speaks to Malay Mail during an interview at UTC Sentul July 2, 2020. — Picture by Hari Anggara

Tom yam restaurant owner Mohd Faisal Abdullah said things have deteriorated to the point where he pays his staff with food, with his premises doubling as living quarters just to save costs.

“To be honest, every single business owner here has been suffering and with the EMCO, I am not sure what to expect anymore. I would say there is only about 10 per cent of business now before the EMCO, so it’s hard to say what happens next,” he said.

Mohd Faisal said he was forced to let several workers go and chose to hold on to only two staff, both whom received pay cuts, and now live in the restaurant.

“Even if there is no lockdown, the people have lost their purchasing power, so even with things like food delivery services, the volume of business is still low,” he added.

As for restaurant owners in Taman Koperasi Polis Fasa 2, the business has been stripped to a bare minimum with family members taking over in place of retrenched staff.

Lagenda Malaya, a family-run restaurant, was forced to release two workers and rope in close relatives to help while keeping overheads affordable.

Restaurant owners Nor Azura Mat Isa, 43, and Nur Shahira Sheikh Moidin, 24, speak to Malay Mail during an interview at UTC Sentul July 2, 2020. — Picture by Hari Anggara
Restaurant owners Nor Azura Mat Isa, 43, and Nur Shahira Sheikh Moidin, 24, speak to Malay Mail during an interview at UTC Sentul July 2, 2020. — Picture by Hari Anggara

Nor Azura Mat Isa, 43, said the family business has been difficult to maintain since the start of the year, and with the EMCO reversing the recently extended operating hours, only bleakness lies ahead.

“We thought things would get better when they announced the extended operating hours but only days later we have to face an EMCO.

“Even so, 2021 has been very bad, and we had to release workers for the first time in the six years since we opened in 2015,” said Nor Azura, as she sat next to cousin cum staff Nur Shahira Sheikh Moidin, 24.

Restaurant owner Hamizan Hashim, 28, speaks to Malay Mail during an interview at UTC Sentul July 2, 2020. — Picture by Hari Anggara
Restaurant owner Hamizan Hashim, 28, speaks to Malay Mail during an interview at UTC Sentul July 2, 2020. — Picture by Hari Anggara

Policeman and entrepreneur Hamizan Hashim, 28, found himself between a rock and a hard place having to play enforcer while being subjected to business restrictions affecting his ayam penyet restaurant.

“It has been difficult of late, sometimes I have to use my own money to pay my staff.

“Even with sales through delivery and pickups, the revenue is nowhere near what we need to sustain.

“I have not even tried to make a profit this year, just looking to get enough to sustain the business without making too much in losses,” he said.

What do the residents say?

Abdul Karim Ibrahim, 53, a father of 10, said the lockdown in his Batu Muda PPR block might exacerbate the situation given the close proximity of housing units and the average size of families in each.

“Like for me I have 10 children in a small house and it gets cramped and boring very fast, even the kids become fed up, but what choice do I have, I cannot afford to leave them alone,” said Abdul Karim, adding that he has been without a steady job for almost a year.

People buying basic needs at the market inside UTC Sentul July 2, 2020. — Picture by Hari Anggara
People buying basic needs at the market inside UTC Sentul July 2, 2020. — Picture by Hari Anggara

The former driver said many who lived in these PPRs are not affluent and cannot afford many forms of entertainment for their families especially during times like an EMCO, with them resorting to mingling in their common corridors which he said brought about even more risks.

Abdul Karim claimed that as many as 20 residents at the PPR have tested positive, with hundreds of close contacts and family members still under quarantine within the complex.

“Yesterday (Thursday) there was one case, and the day before two cases. There was even a case of a person who was already in a coma, was brought to the hospital in the morning but died later that evening, and even incidents of those who died at home from Covid-19,” he claimed.”

His neighbour Izzudin Mat Yatim, 39 echoed Abdul Karim’s opinion, that lockdowns if implemented, should be done right, impartially, and with everyone subject to the same regulations.

“Those million-ringgit and billion-ringgit companies complaining about losing money if their factories are closed; what about the normal person working for daily wages not able to go out to work and with not enough money to feed their families, who will fend for them,” questioned Izzudin.

The property executive said there can be three or four more lockdowns, but if the government constantly keeps allowing leeways for certain industries, the number of new Covid-19 cases will not reduce.

“If they want to do a lockdown, do it properly where no one is allowed to work and only the police and military are roaming the streets. If they want to close sectors, close everything so that not only the big companies are exempted.

“If they want to ask us to follow the rules, then they should do the same,” said Izzudin.

IT executive Mohd Izhar, 33, speaks to Malay Mail during an interview at UTC Sentul July 2, 2020. — Picture by Hari Anggara
IT executive Mohd Izhar, 33, speaks to Malay Mail during an interview at UTC Sentul July 2, 2020. — Picture by Hari Anggara

As for IT executive and resident of Bandar Baru Sentul, Mohd Izhar, 33, he too felt the lockdown was a little too late to avoid a surge in cases, with current restrictions evidently ineffective, he said.

“We have been stuck at home for more than three months and the case numbers are not going down; the government should have implemented the lockdown earlier, so of course I am disappointed there will be an EMCO but there aren’t many other options now,” he said.

For Filipino national Lisabel Nevilbera, a 41-year-old caretaker also from Sentul, the next two weeks is shrouded in doubt with her visa renewal now delayed.

“Only yesterday (Thursday) I passed the documents to my agent to renew, so now I am not sure when I can go back to work.

“I have to just pray and hope the situation improves, and try my best to survive for the next 14 days,” she said.

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