Local industry players across the country are bracing for the worst from the newest arrival on the Covid-19 scene despite the many question marks still surrounding the Omicron variant.
Still struggling to regain their footing after months of lockdown and border closures, many are worried about a relapse that could put an end to their economic recovery so far.
Syed Hussain Syed Husman, president of the Malaysian Employers Federation, said companies and businesses would be reviewing their plans for workplace activities.
“Many companies are developing strategies for responding to Omicron although they will wait for more evidence-based data before implementing any new measures,” he told MalaysiaNow.
Malaysia recorded its first case of the variant in Perak on Dec 3, in an international student who had entered the country through Singapore on Nov 19.
The World Health Organization said on Nov 28 that it remains unclear whether the Omicron strain is more transmissible than other variants including Delta which is currently dominant in many countries.
Nevertheless, a number of countries including Malaysia have taken steps to block or restrict travel over concerns about Omicron.
A major worry now is that the variant might jeopardise plans to reopen the economy after months of restrictions on movemenets.
While little is yet known about the strain, it has presented challenges to public health experts.
Syed Hussain cautioned against jumping to the worst-case scenario but said Omicron should be taken as a serious matter.
“Companies should wait for more information over the next few weeks to learn more about Omicron in order to consider how it might affect businesses and employees,” he said.
He added that employers would exercise caution in taking on new workers, which could stunt efforts to boost the employment rate this month although he remained hopeful of a change in situation through the government’s job guarantee programme next year.
MalaysiaNow previously reported health experts saying that vaccination and compliance with SOPs would be enough for now to address any threats from Omicron.
Dr Lam Sai Kit, a senior fellow at the Academy of Sciences Malaysia, said the country would be able to avoid the worst-case scenario given the high vaccination rate and a more subdued anti-vaccine group than seen in other nations.
“Despite the lifting of travel restrictions in the country, the reopening of schools and the economy, and the return to near normalcy, our caseloads have remained steady,” he said to MalaysiaNow.
He also urged for calm over the emergence of the Omicron variant, saying more would be known about it in the weeks to come.
But while the SOPs themselves are enough to tackle the Omicron threat, he said the people had grown tired of health measures such as the wearing of face masks and observance of physical distancing, aside from staying at home and avoiding crowds or enclosed areas.
“We are already seeing resistance overseas to reverting to well-tried methods, so therein lies the danger of another surge in Covid cases,” he said.
Soh Thian Lai, president of the Federation of Malaysian Manufacturers, said those in the manfacturing industry understand the authorities’ concern over the variant but hope that there will be no repeat of the large-scale closure of the economic sector, which would undo efforts to restore businesses to sustainable levels.
“The industry would however support any need for targeted controls in the event of a spike in infections due to the new variant,” he said.
Nevertheless, if targeted lockdowns become necessary, he said FMM would need clear guidelines and SOPs on operations as well as continued assistance from the government in the form of wage subsidies and loan moratorium periods.
Syed Hussain likewise voiced hope that there would be no further restrictions on movements or interstate travel.