KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin has announced a new economic assistance package worth RM15 billion (US$3.7 billion) on Monday (Jan 18) to mitigate the impact of COVID-19.
In a televised address, Mr Muhyiddin said the package dubbed PERMAI, or the Malaysian Economic and Rakyat Protection Assistance Package, strengthens the current initiatives in place to help Malaysians cope with the economic impact of COVID-19.
"A total of 22 initiatives will be implemented under PERMAI, and they are based on three main objectives - firstly to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, secondly to protect the people's welfare and thirdly to support business continuity," said Mr Muhyiddin.
The announcement came as Malaysia struggles to contain its third wave of COVID-19 infections, with four-digit daily increases in cases bringing the national total to more than 155,000.
The healthcare system is at a breaking point, the prime minister had said last week.
In his Monday address, Mr Muhyiddin said initiatives under the first objective of combating COVID-19 included the implementation of the country's COVID-19 vaccination programme, hiring more workers to strengthen the healthcare system, collaboration with private hospitals and more tests for healthcare frontliners.
For the second objective of protecting people's welfare, among the initiatives he highlighted was that bank moratorium assistance and loan repayment reduction will continue to be provided.
"The moratorium, including the extension of the moratorium and the reduction of loan instalments, will be offered by banks, as previously announced," said Mr Muhyiddin.
In addition, the tax relief period for the purchases of mobile phones, computers and tablets, the period for free Internet access by the telecommunication industry as well as the sales tax exemption period on passenger vehicles will all be extended, he added.
For the third objective of supporting business continuity, initiatives include a one-off monetary assistance for taxi and bus drivers, and a special 10 per cent discount on electric bills from January until March to six business sectors across the country.
IMPACT OF MCO ON ECONOMY IS STILL UNDER CONTROL: MUHYIDDIN
Last Tuesday, Malaysia's king Al-Sultan Abdullah Ri'ayatuddin Al-Mustafa Billah Shah declared a state of emergency across the country, a day after the prime minister announced that five states, including Penang, Selangor, Melaka, Johor and Sabah, and the federal territories of Kuala Lumpur, Putrajaya and Labuan would come under a two-week movement control order (MCO) again.
The northern state of Kelantan was then placed under MCO restrictions beginning Saturday, bringing the total number of affected states to six.
Sarawak is also enforcing an MCO in the Sibu, Selangau and Kanowit districts following a spike in new infections over the last several days.
A ban on interstate travel is in force across the country until Jan 26 in an effort to curb the spread of the virus.
In his speech on Monday, Mr Muhyiddin noted that the implementation of the MCO in certain states and the proclamation of the state of emergency may cause "some frustration among the people and business community".
"I would like to emphasise once again that this declaration of emergency is merely aimed at curbing the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic which is now the biggest threat to the socio-economic development of the country," he said.
"The government will do its best to ensure that the impact of these measures on the country's economic environment is mitigated," he added.
The prime minister added that the government does not expect an impact similar to the second quarter of 2020, as the current MCO has allowed more economic activities to operate.
"There, the impact of the current MCO to the economy is still under control," he said.
He believed that the economic stimulus packages, budget 2021 and the PERMAI assistance package will continue to boost consumption.
This latest economic package follows the tabling of an expansionary 2021 national budget in November last year, the country's biggest ever, targeted at ensuring people’s prosperity, business continuity and economic resilience amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Mr Muhyiddin had said that the budget was a continuation from the four stimulus packages worth RM305 billion (US$73.2 billion) that were announced in 2020.
There was an RM10 billion PRIHATIN Supplementary Initiative Package, which was an extension of the previous economic stimulus packages, namely PRIHATIN, PRIHATIN SME PLUS and PENJANA worth a total of RM295 billion, or about 20 per cent of the nation’s gross domestic product (GDP).