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Most businesses to reopen during Malaysia's MCO extension: Sources

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A hair salon in Kampung Pandan, Kuala Lumpur, employing social distancing measures in June 2020.PHOTO: ST FILE

More sectors of Malaysia's economy will be reopened during the movement control order (MCO) extension that begins on Friday (Feb 5) despite rising coronavirus infections, industry and government sources told The Straits Times.

Although the government vowed to impose stricter protocols during the new two-week period of movement curbs announced on Tuesday, it also said it was considering exemptions for more businesses.

"We are reversing the strategy. Instead of listing those [businesses] that can operate, we are listing those that can't," said an official who could not be named due to the confidentiality of the matter.

An industry source also revealed that "the International Trade and Industry Ministry will hold a virtual meeting with relevant trade groups this week to brief on the new standard operating procedures (SOPs)".

Various smaller enterprises such as beauty and grooming, retail and wholesale traders as well as car wash services are among those expected to reopen after staying closed for three weeks.

Manufacturing and construction - which along with agriculture and essential services were exempted from closure under the current MCO - are also bracing for tougher and costlier SOPs, having been found to responsible for two-thirds of over 300 active clusters.

Senior Minister for Security Ismail Sabri Yaakob said on Tuesday when announcing the MCO extension that "we are giving more leeway to economic sectors, especially small businesses, because we understand a full lockdown will be most difficult for the poorest".

But Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri, who is also Defence Minister, warned that the authorities will be imposing stricter guidelines and enforcing them more aggressively to curb the Covid-19 outbreak which saw a new daily high of 5,728 last Saturday and a record 21 deaths on Tuesday.  Another 4,284 cases and 18 deaths were reported Wednesday.

Opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim cautioned on Wednesday that new regulations should be simple and clear instead of "changing every week".

"We agree there should be strict rules but there has to be clarity.  At roadblocks, even police say 'there are too many'," he said.

Industries Unite, a coalition of 40 trade associations largely representing small enterprises, hailed the move to open up the economy.

"We encourage all member associations to remind members to observe strict compliance with SOPs to assist the government to bring the numbers down," it said in a Facebook posting.

The group said on Tuesday when the MCO extension was announced that "a structured recovery" was needed, and urged the government "to work with us to come up with an immediate emergency plan to keep businesses going, a six- to 12-month stabilisation plan and thereafter a three-year recovery plan."