Muhyiddin must not only ensure that there are enough supply of food and essentials during the Covid-19 crisis, but also that every Malaysian has enough money to buy them

Yesterday, while announcing the extension of the movement control order (MCO) to April 14, the Prime Minister, Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin asked the people to remain calm, and assured that there is enough food for everybody.

In the live telecast yesterday, Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin said he was informing the people of the extension in advance so that preparations could be made.

He also urged the people to remain calm and gave an assurance that there would be enough food for everybody.

This is not good enough.

As Prime Minister, Muhyiddin must not only ensure that there are enough supply of food and essentials during the Covid-19 crisis, but also that every Malaysian has enough money to buy them.

Up to now, four weeks after the second wave of the Covid-19 outbreak in Malaysia and 25 days after he took his oath as the eighth Prime Minister, Muhyiddinh has not inspired confidence that he could lead the country out of the economic catastrophe created by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Muhyiddin’s comprehensive economic stimulus package tomorrow will be an acid test of his pledge in his telecast yesterday that “no one will be left behind” in the double national crisis over lives and livelihoods, and that Malaysians, particularly the poor and the low-income, will have money to tide through the economic crisis created by the Covid-19 pandemic.

For a start, let us call a spade a spade. We are not talking about any economic stimulus but economic rescue. What we need is not an economic stimulus package but an economic rescue package.

We cannot outlaw the virus. And no economic policy can fully end the hardship so long as the public health requires that we put so much of our economy on ice. But we must rescue the economy.

The Prime Minister should be aware of new thinking in the face of the double whammy of the unprecedented health and economic crisis wrought by the Covid-19 pandemic, which has claimed the lives of nearly 20,000 people and infected nearly half a million people all over the world (compared to 81,218 infections and 3,281 Covid-19 deaths in China) and plunging the world into a recession and even depression.

According to World Trade Organisation projections, the economic downturn and job losses caused by the pandemic are likely to be worse than the 2008 recession.

Summed up in the title of the latest eBook from the Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR), “Mitigating the Covid Economic Crisis: Act Fast and Do Whatever it Takes”, the leading economists of the world advocate that governments should use heavy fiscal firepower for a “whatever-it-takes” economic response to the COVID-19 crisis, urging governments to act quickly and do whatever it takes to keep the lights on.

This is the time for unconventional policies such as “helicopter money”, where everyone gets a no-strings-attached handout and state investment banks provide unlimited emergency lending to firms.

Will there be “helicopter money” in Muhyiddin’s comprehensive economic rescue package tomorrow to reduce personal and corporate bankruptcies, ensure people have money to keep spending even if they’re not working, and increase public investment and healthcare spending.

The measures necessary to contain the virus – quarantine, social distancing, school, university and daycare closures, shutdowns of non-essential businesses, and asking people to work from home – have brought economies to a screeching halt.

As advocated by Pierre-Olivier Gourinchas of the University of California, Berkeley, in the eBook chapter on how to flatten both the infection and recession curves: “We are facing a joint health and economic crisis of unprecedented proportions in recent history”

Muhyiddin’s comprehensive economic rescue package will be tested in the light of this new thinking that the government must not only save lives, but also save jobs and livelihoods – how fiscal policies are used to prevent or limit catastrophic collapses, and developing what Gourinchas says are the “intensive care units, beds and ventilators of the economic system.”

Even the United States, which will be new epicentre of the Covid-19 pandemic, having registered nearly 10,000 new Covid-cases to total 64,765 confirmed cases (set to overtake China in the total confirmed cases in a matter of days), there is finally a US$2 trillion Covid-19 economic rescue package.

Democratic and Republican leaders of Congress, along with White House officials, are fine-tuning an agreement for a US$2 trillion Covid-19 economic rescue package which go to businesses, corporations and directly into the pockets of Americans.

Malaysians and the world are waiting for Muhyiddin’s comprehensive economic rescue package tomorrow.

Lim Kit Siang MP for Iskandar Puteri