PETALING JAYA: A strict lockdown will hit small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) hard, affecting some 900,000 businesses nationwide, and the government will not allow that to happen.

Finance minister Tengku Zafrul Aziz said this lesson had been learned after the implementation of the first movement control order in March last year.

More than 70% of the country’s SMEs, he said, had posted losses in 2020.

“It goes without saying that a strict ‘lockdown’ will hit our SMEs, or over 900,000 businesses nationwide.

“Within this are small- and micro-business owners whose livelihoods are immediately affected by even a day of ‘lockdown’, what more a 14-day shutdown,” he said, adding that SMEs formed the backbone of Malaysia’s economy, contributing nearly 40% to the gross domestic product.

He was speaking when delivering the keynote address at the Bursa Malaysia Forum.

The impact the first MCO had on SMEs provided the biggest lesson that a “lockdown” and ensuring the economy’s survival “are not and must not be mutually exclusive”.

Tengku Zafrul said it was inevitable for policymakers and market regulators to talk about the economic effect of the “lockdown” from a macro perspective.

However, behind all the numbers, he said, were real people who were facing real survival issues with a tighter lockdown.

Tengku Zafrul said this was especially true for small- and micro-businesses run by food stall owners, tailors, barbers and launderette operators.

“This is simply about the reality of survival – the ability to put food on the table for the family each and every day. For them, the balancing act is just a theory and holds little meaning in their quest for daily survival.

“Who is to say one occupation is more essential than the other?

“All types of jobs are essential because they provide food on the table and a roof over people’s heads. Which is why, policymaking in managing the Covid-19 crisis extends beyond public health.

“There are those who believe that a tighter MCO will save more lives. For anyone concerned about losing a loved one to Covid-19, this may seem like the only fact that matters.

“However, as a society, it is important for us to be clear about what exactly the outcomes and alternatives are.”