Klang Valley residents struggle under second round of Covid-19 movement curbs

KUALA LUMPUR/KLANG – Mr Ahmad Hazriq Isa has spent the last six days surviving only on bread, instant noodles and biscuits while looking for a new job.

The 26-year-old became unemployed for the second time this year just minutes after the Malaysian government announced on Monday (Oct 12) that it would re-implement movement curbs in the capital city Kuala Lumpur, neighbouring Selangor state, and the administrative capital Putrajaya, as it fights a third wave of Covid-19.

The Conditional Movement Control Order (CMCO) kicked in on Wednesday for two weeks, closing down schools and courts as classes and trial hearings moved online, with a ban on inter-district and inter-state travel.

“I lost my job about 45 minutes after the announcement. My boss pulled me aside and told me that he can no longer afford to pay me. This is my second time losing a job due to the pandemic,” Mr Hazriq told The Straits Times.

He lives in Klang, Selangor, a district hard-hit by the current Covid-19 wave with 110 active cases as at Friday.

Mr Hazriq was a railway technician before he was laid off in March when the government first imposed a partial shutdown, which saw most Malaysians staying at home as schools and non-essential businesses had to close.

He then joined a mobile phone company as an administration officer and salesman after the curbs were gradually relaxed in May. But this did not last long.

“Things were initially improving from May onwards, but when the number of new cases soared last week, we struggled to break even. Everyone got scared because of the high number of infections so they stopped visiting the mall where we’re located. Now I’m back to square one – being jobless,” he said.

Ms Soraya Rahman, 22, who had joined a market research firm earlier this year, found out in the past week that she would no longer have a job by November.

Many malls in the Klang Valley were seen empty. PHOTO: HAZLIN HASSAN

“They broke the news to me on the first day of the CMCO. They are laying off a lot of people,” she said.

Malaysia has been recording triple-digit cases daily since late last month, soaring to a record high of 691 on Oct 9. It now has a total of 18,758 cases of Covid-19, with 176 deaths.

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While businesses are still allowed to operate, many are barely staying afloat as Malaysians stay home for fear of contracting the virus.

Hawker Lao Yao Kee, 53, said: “I barely recovered (from the first round of curbs). I used up my savings to survive until I was allowed to reopen my stall in May. It was getting better for a bit until the cases went up again. I’m just glad I can still operate.

“I now get the contacts of my customers so that I can send them daily promotions. Getting 60 to 70 per cent less sales than what I’m used to is still something, as I’m on the verge of being penniless.”

Many malls in the Klang Valley were seen empty, with several reporting fewer customers even before the partial shutdown commenced.

One store at the Suria KLCC shopping mall said that it began closing early a few weeks ago – at 9.30pm instead of the usual 10pm – as business had dived by more than 50 per cent since one positive case was reported at a gym in the mall in September.

“We used to see some 200 customers a day, but now we get around 70. The office crowd has fizzled out, and even on the weekends it’s quiet,” said a worker at the store.

Many malls in the Klang Valley were seen empty. PHOTO: HAZLIN HASSAN

Many companies have been operating in a work-from-home mode since mid-March, and some had begun re-implementing this a few days before the CMCO, following the surge in the number of cases.

Stores remain open under CMCO but only two people per household are allowed to venture out to shop.

Some people had expected that some form of lockdown would be imposed as case numbers rose, and had been slowly stocking up on groceries and household supplies. Grocery delivery slots were snapped up several days before the CMCO was announced.

On Wednesday, the first day of the CMCO, the streets of Kuala Lumpur and Selangor were quieter than usual and fewer commuters were seen taking trains to work.

Some customers though are happy with the lack of crowds, and a number of shops are offering freebies and vouchers to lure shoppers back to malls.

Epidemiologist Awang Bulgiba Awang Mahmud of Universiti Malaya said it could take up to six weeks for Selangor to see an improvement, and that the government may extend the CMCO.

“It is likely that it will take a few weeks more for Selangor to see a significant drop in cases. Maybe four to six weeks,” Professor Datuk Dr Awang Bulgiba told ST.

Selangor has the highest Covid-19 reproduction number (Rt) of 1.99 as new cases surge in the state. It recorded 150 new cases on Thursday.

The Rt refers to the infection rate and estimates the average number of people that one patient can infect.

Prof Awang Bulgiba said if the justification for the CMCO was Selangor’s high Rt, then the order may be extended.

“I do not think it will come down to less than one so soon. So it is likely that the CMCO will be extended .”

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