Dr M: We are all faced with a catastrophe

On March 12, I met a group of young Members of Parliament of Pakatan Harapan (PH) to explain what happened. At the end, before leaving, they requested to have a picture with me. I did not think much of it. I did not think they would be infected. They crowded around me, closely, so as to be in the photo.

On March 17, my assistant Sufi showed me the photo and told me one of the MPs from Sarawak had proven positive when tested for Covid-19.

I did not think much of it. I was feeling well. Indeed, many visitors remarked how well I looked. But the authorities thought differently. A team of doctors and nurses arrived at the Perdana Leadership Foundation where I was working and stopped me as I was going home for lunch.

They took a swab and told me I had to be quarantined for 14 days from the date of contact.

And so here I am, home, quarantined. I had been talking to people to be serious about this pandemic. I have even done a video clip. Now I must be serious and accept being quarantined.

This coronavirus is something that we have never had before. It is easily contagious and in a number of cases, it is fatal. We have no medicine or vaccine to counter it. All we can do is to treat symptoms like fever, cough and breathlessness, and if there is lung infection and you are old, you may die. I am old, 94 years old.

The threat posed by Covid-19 is due to ease of infection and possible death. To manage the infection or contagion, it is necessary to isolate people. They must avoid being close to each other. Since we usually do not know who has the virus, everyone has to be far apart from each other.

Since people by nature are gregarious, keeping millions of people apart from each other is extremely difficult. When we work, travel, play, watch games or go to the cinemas, we would come together.

When we travel, almost always we would be confined in vehicles close together. To avoid this, we have to stop travelling. This affects the tourist industry greatly. In many cases, there is a 70% decline.

The airlines would suffer. The tourist industry would suffer. The hotels, ground transport and restaurants would suffer. Employees would suffer as they may be laid off. Their employers will not be earning enough money to pay them.

For Malaysia, the tourist industry is the second biggest foreign exchange earner, after Petronas. The government would lose a lot of revenue.

People working in the tourist industry would lose jobs and income. This would be terrible because these people need to survive.

In Malaysia, the petroleum industry is not big. But it’s a big contribution to government revenue. At times, Petronas paid to the government as much as RM80 billion. The budgeted price of one barrel of crude for 2020 was fixed at US$63 per barrel. It is now selling at less than 50% of the budgeted price. Government revenue may go down to RM30 billion.

The stimulus package involved an increase in government expenditure and a decrease in taxes. Meeting this extra expenditure with decreased government revenue would be challenging.

In the meantime, even a partial lockdown would reduce business and profits. Again, government revenue would be affected.

For the small enterprises, the loss would be terrible. These people earn from day to day. Even if they are able to do some business it would not be sufficient to pay for their food. The government may have to give them financial support.

What is happening in Malaysia is happening to the rest of the world also. Industries may have to stop or at least reduce production. Exports and imports would be affected. Economies would go into recession worldwide. Even the richest countries would suffer.

Truly, we all are faced with a terrible catastrophe.

Dr Mahathir Mohamad is the former prime minister of Malaysia. This article is reproduced from his blog chedet.com, and was written on March 18.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.