AS we go through another phase of the movement control order (MCO) in several states with high numbers of Covid-19 cases, the same cycle of pessimistic economic impact is expected especially for businesses that are reliant on day-to-day operations such as those in food and beverage (F&B) sector.

Perhaps, one way to try to help ease their burden is by extending the daily operation hours.

Based on the standard operating procedures (SOP) reported by Malaysiakini, most businesses are only allowed to operate between 6am and 8pm and some of them are as follows:

> Restaurants, food trucks, food stalls;

> Sundry shops and convenience stores;

> Pharmacies;

> Supermarkets;

> Veterinary clinics and shops of pet food supplies; and

> Laundry shops including the self-service laundries, conditional upon having staff monitoring the SOP.

For eateries, dining in is not allowed except for takeaways or deliveries.

Anecdotally, this will definitely affect the businesses whose revenues very much rely on dine-in such as those in shopping malls and the small stall or restaurant owners outside of malls.

Additionally, small businesses that are partners with food delivery companies such as Grab and Foodpanda would find it relatively more challenging to cope with the high charges imposed by the delivery vendors.

Some ground experiences faced by the food hawkers in the Klang Valley have been reported by the media since the imposition of MCO on Jan 13.

Bukit Bintang Hawkers Association chairman See Foo Hoong was reported to have said some hawkers find it hard to make deliveries to their customers during the MCO because they could not afford the charges imposed by delivery vendors.

He said, “The charges are a bit too steep for small businesses and some of us cannot handle deliveries because we run our businesses alone.”

In return, the sellers would likely have no choice but to pass on the higher costs to consumers, which some are not keen to do.

According to another news report, an eatery business owner Zamari Jaib, who owns Mee Bandung Muar, also said coping with limited operating hours is difficult in terms of retaining his staff with limited savings and he is not too keen to go online as it will lead to increased prices.

Malaysian Muslim Restaurant Owners Association president Datuk Jawahar Ali Taib Khan has also appealed for the operating hours of restaurants to be extended.

He said restaurants have experienced losses of up to 80% on the first day of the MCO.

The nationwide ban on inter-state travel would also affect food sellers who are located at rest and services areas (RSAs and R&Rs).

However, one major help would be to lift the travel ban so that people can start travelling again.

But nothing is certain yet given that the number of cases remains at four digits for now.

Given these unfortunate circumstances and the need to impose a blanket MCO in certain states to combat the fast spread of virus, there should be a balancing act to try to compensate losses incurred by the people.

Hence, there is a crucial need for the government to consider an extension of business operating hours from the current 8pm to 10pm.

Since food purchases are only permissible through takeaways and deliveries, this extension should not be a concern that people will not adhere to the SOP.

On a side note, it is possible that customers would still want to order for deliveries or takeaways after 8pm.

Fortunately, due to the reinstatement of the MCO and to support small businesses during this critical time, Grab Malaysia has further reduced the commission ceiling by up to 5% and slashed delivery fees to as low as 50 cents, effective from Jan 13 until Feb 10.

The company will also absorb the costs for self-pickup orders made via Grab and reduce commission to 0% if customers choose to pick up their orders themselves.

In addition, the government should also consider extending the existing initiatives introduced in the previous stimulus packages and Budget 2021 for another few months namely the wage subsidy programme for the hard-hit sectors and the targeted loan repayment assistance for the B40 borrowers and micro enterprises because they would need all the help and assistance they can get now.

Sofea Azahar is research analyst at EMIR Research, a think tank focused on strategic policy recommendations based on rigorous research. Comment:

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