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A quiet Kuala Lumpur street during the Movement Control Order. -- Pix: Bernama
A quiet Kuala Lumpur street during the Movement Control Order. -- Pix: Bernama

COVID-19 kills people and fuels fear. It cripples businesses and shrinks bank accounts.

Pity the countless workers who may lose their jobs. And the numerous employers who feel they are sinking in a financial quicksand.

I have friends who run small businesses, which provide employment to a few people. What’s running through their minds now, giving them nightmares when asleep and in periods of wakefulness?

KHOO, kitchen equipment entrepreneur

“It was bad in the first half of 2019, but business came back in the second half. We had small projects. Most were repairs and maintenance.

“But towards the year’s end, business tapered off. At the start of 2020 we had no projects at all. Then came Covid-19 and the Movement Control Order (MCO). It went from bad to worse.

“Of course, with the MCO, we can’t continue our business, to look for more work, more projects. My line of work is F&B, hence it is greatly affected. No projects, no sales, yet overheads and operating expenses (rental, utilities, salaries, etc.) still need to be met. I am praying the MCO will not be extended.

“I'm more than worried. I'm nervous, stressed and helpless facing the uncertainties. How long can the business be sustained and remain open or viable, I ask myself.

"Stocks in the warehouse can't move with the MCO. Do I reduce cost by terminating my workforce, which by the way is not a big one?

"What other measures can I take? Set up an office at home to save on the rental and utilities?

"My employees understand the predicament, but naturally, they won't ask to have their salary halved or offer to go on unpaid leave.

"We had chats on the economy and on our line of business before and during Covid-19, and they do really care and understand. All they could offer was to work harder, be more efficient and effective.

"I know I may need to make decisions that will affect them, but I'm still hopeful and optimistic. What worries me more is beyond this MCO. How can we recover from this pandemic? What would the current government do (or can do) to revive the economy?"

JAZREEL CHAN, businesswoman, home decorations and gifts

“Business for retailers would normally slow down after the Chinese New Year celebration. But when the coronavirus outbreak got serious, sales became extremely slow at the start of March.

Jazreel Chan
Jazreel Chan

“All shopping malls are closed. My products are considered non-essential goods. So there will be no sales during this Movement Control Order (MCO) period.

“I pray and hope that the MCO will not be extended. I have no solid plans or strategies for now.

"We have already prepared the stock for Hari Raya but if the outbreak is not contained, I foresee a difficult time. People will spend less on non-essential items.

“Currently, I am looking into the Special Relief Facility offered by the government.

“My workers are aware of our difficult situation and have been very understanding. I am very grateful.”

Small and medium enterprises, such as those run by my friends, contributed 38.3 per cent to the gross domestic product in 2018. That's RM521.7 billion.

But they are not mere numbers.

Entrepreneur-employers create opportunities for themselves. And livelihoods for others.

In these times of great distress, remember them. For if they sink into the quicksand, countless others will too.

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