KUALA LUMPUR, March 16 — Anwar Ibrahim urged the government today to increase the Ministry of Health’s budget from the RM150 million allocated in the previous administration’s stimulus package to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic.
The Pakatan Harapan (PH) leader said the Perikatan Nasional (PN) government should embark immediately on a large-scale spending programme to improve capacity, including purchasing additional medical equipment and physical infrastructure for public hospitals and clinics, providing free masks and hand sanitisers to the public, and ramping up acquisition of test kits and medicines.
“Let me be clear. It is the government’s responsibility to undertake these measures and the burden should not be passed to the public,” Anwar said in a statement.
The previous PH administration under Dr Mahathir Mohamad announced on February 27 an extra RM150 million budget for MOH in the government’s 2020 economic stimulus package in response to the coronavirus outbreak.
The former prime minister had also announced that government doctors and other medical personnel directly involved in coronavirus containment efforts would receive a special RM400 monthly critical allowance from February until the end of the outbreak. It is unknown if this allowance has been given out yet after PN assumed federal power on March 1.
Anwar also urged the government to immediately enforce stronger rules for social distancing, including making a clear decision about halting public gatherings, and suspending schools and religious observances for a period of time.
Both private sector employers and the civil service should also implement work-from-home policies as much as possible.
“We must give serious consideration to closing non-essential commercial and retail outlets for a period of time to control the rapid spread of infection,” the PKR president said.
He also encouraged the use of e-commerce and e-delivery platforms and to adopt additional foreign travel restrictions.
The Guardian reported today that global deaths and infections from the novel coronavirus have exceeded those inside China, where the virus originated late last year, for the first time.
Worldwide Covid-19 infections reportedly surpassed 87,000 cases, while cases in China reached 80,860 as of today.
Fatalities outside China have increased to over 3,241, according to Johns Hopkins University, while deaths inside mainland China stood at 3,208 as of today. The World Health Organization (WHO) previously declared Europe as the epicentre of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Coronavirus cases in Malaysia have jumped to 428 cases, after 190 new infections were reported in a single day yesterday. Health director-general Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah said 243 cases were linked to the recent tabligh event at the Sri Petaling mosque in Kuala Lumpur, with nine critically ill.
Anwar also proposed increasing the Bantuan Sara Hidup (BSH) cash aid payments for May and to make employment insurance available for all workers forced to go on unpaid leave, focusing on sectors directly impacted by the coronavirus.
The Port Dickson MP further called for SST exemptions for all sectors until June and to directly affected sectors for the whole of this year.
“All the signs point to a recession similar to the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis, which I helped manage as the then Finance Minister. Urgent and difficult decisions need to be made decisively by the government of the day.”