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Still wobbly from MCO, Melaka businesses fear another lockdown if Covid cases spike after polls

Souvenir and grilled fish stalls in the historic state are heavily dependent on tourist arrivals.

Ahmad Mustakim Zulkifli
3 minute read
A family enjoys a meal at one of the stalls serving seafood set up at the Pernu-Umbai jetty in Melaka.
A family enjoys a meal at one of the stalls serving seafood set up at the Pernu-Umbai jetty in Melaka.

When the government announced the gradual reopening of the social and economic sectors last month after almost two years of on-again, off-again lockdowns to curb the spread of Covid-19, businesses in Umbai, Melaka, heaved a sigh of relief.

Many of them were small business owners who ran grilled fish stalls or sold trinkets and souvenirs. Heavily dependent on tourist movements, they welcomed the reopening of state borders with open arms.

The arrival of domestic visitors brought new life to the Pernu-Umbai jetty, where tourists flocked to enjoy the famous seafood served at the many stalls.

Little by little, they began to regain a little of the ground they had lost throughout the many lockdowns.

Now, their biggest fear is losing this newfound life if Covid-19 infections begin to increase again after the Melaka state election this weekend.

Mohd Yunus Shafie owns a family-run business at the jetty selling grilled fish.

Mohd Yunus Shafie is grateful that his grilled fish business survived the previous lockdowns but is worried about what might happen if another round of curbs are imposed.

He said the area had been lifeless throughout the movement control order (MCO) period.

“We really had no other customers,” he told MalaysiaNow.

Once state borders were reopened, tourists began trickling in but Yunus held back from starting up his stall again.

He waited a week before firing up his grill, encouraged by some of his other friends who had also reopened their stalls.

“We are a family-run business, so finding workers was not a problem,” Yunus said.

“Some of the other stalls are still having a hard time running because they don’t have enough workers.”

Yunus’ business is among those which received assistance and grants throughout the MCO period.

He is grateful that his business has been able to survive the various lockdowns and measures put in place to prevent the spread of Covid-19.

Customers choose from the selection of seafood at the Pernu-Umbai jetty food court.

There are a total of 16 stalls and businesses at the jetty under the Pernu Umbai grilled fish association.

The association’s treasurer, Kamsiah Salleh, said the campaign period for the state election which began on Nov 8 had not had the expected effect.

“No real crowds have come here except politicians who come to visit,” she told MalaysiaNow.

While business owners registered with the association have begun to make payments for their rental arrears, with the infectivity rate of Covid-19 crossing 1.0, Kamsiah is still not at ease.

Health director-general Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah, in announcing the development, had warned that it was an early sign of a spike in positive cases.

Hospital bed usage for Covid-19 patients in Melaka is also at a worrying level.

While life is slowly creeping back to the Pernu-Umbai jetty food court, many tables remain empty due to concerns over Covid-19.

According to the CovidNow portal, Melaka has a 82.8% rate of hospital bed usage, the third highest in the country behind Terengganu and Kelantan.

“We are worried, but not as worried as before because now we have vaccines,” Kamsiah said.

“We need to learn to live with Covid-19, just that there are risks for those who have other health problems.”

While she is confident that the government will not impose a total lockdown again, she said people could decide not to travel to other states if they expect case numbers to rise, especially within the first two weeks after the election.

This is a possibility raised by health experts who say that a new wave of Covid-19 could hit next month.

Kamsiah, who runs a souvenir stall, said they could only hope for high sales during weekends and school holidays.

Yunus meanwhile said not much could be done apart from adhering to the SOPs.

“We have separated our tables to allow for physical distancing, and we make sure that all of our customers are fully vaccinated.

“We just hope there will not be another MCO. If they close the borders again, we are done for.”