Penang small traders hit again with new Covid-19 cases

The Batu Ferringhi market area devoid of customers over the weekend.

GEORGE TOWN: Penang’s economy saw some improvement when the Covid-19 lockdown was lifted in June. The traditional mainstay industry – tourism – and the food business picked up and hotels were recording near full-occupancy over the weekends boosted by local tourists.

However, over the past weekend, things started slowing down. There were barely any tourists at the heritage district here, fewer patrons at coffee shops, and lighter traffic for what was supposed to be a regular, busy Penang weekend filled with out-of-towners.

Some traders point their finger to the latest two Covid-19 cases registered in Penang as of Sunday, which were later labelled the Ara cluster, and the two separate lockdowns in Kedah, which have been going on for over two weeks.

“Every Friday and Saturday, we get a lot of Kedahans coming over. Now they are in lockdown in Alor Setar and some parts of Sungai Petani,” a bicycle rental business owner, who only wanted to be known as Lee, said.

Another trader at Swatow Lane said news of the Ara cluster has affected arrivals on the island.

Empty tables and chairs at a beachside bar in Batu Ferringhi.

In Batu Ferringhi, a hotelier said occupancy dropped by 40% over the weekend. “Our weekends used to be good after the MCO was replaced by the RMCO, but for the first time, our numbers have dropped,” the hotel executive told FMT.

Market traders at Batu Ferringhi are also seeing “dry days”, with as many as five traders recording “zero” sales since the weekend.

“On a bad day, we used to make RM200. Now, with no one coming, we are closing shop early,” Md Taufiq, 32, said.

He said his neighbour, who sold watches, had decided to close shop after he was unable to pay the rent and electricity bill.

Taufiq’s sports clothing shop is part of a maze of 60 shops by the beach forced to operate in proper brick and mortar shops, as opposed to the earlier practice of operating under parasols lined along the main road, due to the Covid-19 regulations.

He said only 35 shops are open today, and beachgoers are not keen to spend.

A Thai food business owner in Air Itam said the use of the word “cluster” had prevented people from patronising their outlets.

“Once a rumour spreads that there are new Covid-19 cases, no one would come. In Penang, there were only two recent cases, why does it need to be called a cluster so quick?” he asked.