1. I believe that most people in Sabah are willing to follow all Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) and fully cooperate with the government in fighting the Covid-19 pandemic together. However, SOP that are updated too frequently again and again do not help at all. The situation had been so bad that a version of SOP had been overwritten by another “updated” version of SOP released just merely 10 minutes apart in such a spectacular U-turn! This would only confuse the people and gradually make the people lose confidence in the leadership of the government. Such a swift U-turn on SOP is a manifestation of weak leadership and having no clear direction in fighting the pandemic.
2. The latest SOP announced at ten o’clock last night, the final decision had been to shorten the operating hours of all key economic sectors in Sabah and to change it from 9am to 6pm. An exception had been accorded for wet markets where they are allowed to operate from 6am in the morning to 3pm in the afternoon. The main reason for the shortening of business hours is that the Covid-19 pandemic in Sabah had worsened with six (6) new clusters yesterday, which is the highest increase recently. GRS government had wanted more movement control in place to prevent crowds.
3. Under the same reason, Kota Kinabalu, Putatan, and Penampang were restored from being regarded as one district to back to three districts. People now cannot come and go freely across these three districts. The police will set up more roadblocks so as to put a stop to these traffics.
4. Although the new SOP is intended to be good, it had caused the following unfairness, especially for the food and beverages industry:
– Most of the eateries and coffeeshops will lose their prime-time breakfast business. Limiting their operating hours till after 9 o’clock is like telling these operators to give up a major round of business crowd comprising of office workers who normally patronize between 6 to 9 o’clock in the morning;
– Only food hawkers set up in inside the markets are allowed to operate breakfast business;
– But not all food hawkers set up inside markets operate breakfast business. Like for example the food hawkers at the Lido market – these hawkers normally operate at night, and such restriction of operating telling to stay at home at night is akin to signing these businesses’ death certificate and telling them to go starve at home.
5. These operators in the food and beverages industry were put into a predicament where they had no choice but to suffer in silence being unable to speak of their losses of business opportunity. Not long ago, the Sabah Police Commissioner had made a great statement that even restaurant employees cannot be seen eating at their work place, otherwise it would be deemed to be “dining-in” and therefore violate SOP. Originally, the business hours were adjusted to 7am to 7pm. Then there were still some hopes that they can derive an income from the breakfast and dinner businesses. Now even this hope is dashed.
6. In actual fact, the food and beverage industry has been classified as an essential service even since MCO1.0. When the pandemic had worsened, crowd control mechanisms were put in place and therefore dine-in were banned with only takeaways allowed. When the situation had improved, depending on the degree of improvement, conditions such as a table with two persons, 50% of the number of people on the table, or even maximum capacity on a table, were imposed. This were all effective measures as crowd control.
7. However right now, under the name of a complete lockdown, the business hours of the food and beverages industry have been disrupted! May I ask now that dine-in is banned, and that no diners will gather in the coffeeshop/restaurant to drink tea, eat and chit chat, so why even bother to interfere with their business schedule?! Does this government think that the Covid-19 coronavirus has a time schedule of infection and starts attacking or infecting people between 6 o’clock in the evening and 9 o’clock in the morning so people must stay home?
8. MKN Sabah seem to care less about the people’s livelihood in the release of the latest SOP imposing blanket operating hours on various industries, especially the livelihoods of those in the food and beverages industry. This is no different from how previously Sabah ports were only allowed to operate from 6am to 6pm, completely ignoring the need for continuity in the global cargo supply chain.
9. I sincerely appeal to the government and MKN that since dine-in had already been banned and there will be no gatherings or crowds in restaurants or coffeeshops, they should be exempted from the rigidly of prescribed business hours. As for other key economic areas, work from home should be arranged as much as possible. To all my fellow Sabahans, if there is no need to work outside, then stay home as much as possible. In any event, people are now scared of contracting Covid-19 and will not go around spending. Those who insist on operating their business may not even earn back to cover their utility bills.
10. With the worsening of the Covid-19 pandemic in Sabah, I hereby urge everyone to cooperate with the relevant authorities to fight the pandemic. At the same time, the relevant authorities must speed up the establishment of more vaccination centres and obtain more vaccine supplies from the federal government. What the GRS state government must do now is to go deep into the rural areas through local leaders to strengthen vaccination publicity and registration. As for the business hours of the food and beverages industry, all I ask is for this government to have mercy on them and scrap the imposition of business hours on them.
CHAN FOONG HIN