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Conflicting HIDE statements by Khairy, Ismail Sabri wreak havoc among retail outlets

KUALA LUMPUR (May 9): Conflicting statements by Science, Technology and Innovation Minister Khairy Jamaluddin and Senior Minister (Security) Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob on the Covid-19-driven Hotspots Identification for Dynamic Engagement (HIDE) system appear to have wreaked havoc among retailers across Malaysia after outlet operators claimed the industry was not consulted on the implementation of the HIDE system under which premises listed under HIDE as potential pandemic risk locations have been ordered to be closed for three days effective today.

Retailers operating within shopping malls claimed that mall operators are confused as the government initially yesterday (May 8) evening announced that the three-day closure would start today (May 9) before revising the date to tomorrow (May 10) shortly before midnight yesterday (May 8).

Retailers told theedgemarkets.com today that the government early this morning at about 12.15am reverted to the original starting date of the closure, which is today.

"Even the malls were confused after the 9th (May) became 10th (May) which then became 9th (May) again.

"I was working and calling contractors plus my staff till 1am (today)!" a cosmetics retailer said in a WhatsApp text message.

Speaking to theedgemarkets.com today, Mydin Mohamed Holdings Bhd managing director Datuk Dr Ameer Ali Mydin claimed that there was "zero consultation" with the retail industry on HIDE's implementation.

As such, he said the industry has no idea how the system, which is based on artificial intelligence, works.

Mydin Mohamed Holdings is the operator of MYDIN hypermarkets across Malaysia.

According to Ameer Ali, retail outlet operators are uncertain over how to exit the high-risk status associated with being listed as a Covid-19 hotspot by HIDE.

He said closing shopping malls for three days involves the closure of essential outlets such as supermarkets and pharmacies.

Ameer Ali questioned the three-day closure's rationale.

He said if the purpose of the three-day closure is to place affected premises under a Covid-19-driven lockdown, a three-day closure is not enough based on the stipulated seven- to 14-day closure to curb the spread of the pandemic.

Ameer Ali underscored that the retail sector is supportive of scientific methods employed by the government to fight Covid-19.

He, however, said the retail sector needs to be included in the government's decision-making process as the retail industry is part of the country's social and economic fabric. 

"The weakness of the HIDE system is that shopping malls have been punished for following (Covid-19-driven) SOPs (standard operating procedures)," he said.

Khairy and Ismail Sabri made contradictory statements yesterday regarding HIDE, which was developed by Bank Negara Malaysia and the Health Ministry to give early warning to prevent spikes in the number of Covid-19 infections by using data from the MySejahtera application.

News reports, quoting Khairy, reported yesterday that premises and locations listed under the HIDE early warning system were not confirmed Covid-19 clusters.

However, these premises and locations had the potential to turn into pandemic clusters if pre-emptive actions were not taken, news reports indicated.

"Premises listed under HIDE are different from the list of clusters issued each day by the Health director-general. Premises listed under HIDE do not need to close except when directed by the authorities.

"The listing of these locations and premises enables pre-emptive intervention and appropriate action to be taken by the authorities, owners of premises and the public to prevent the emergence of new clusters," Bernama quoted Khairy as saying in a statement yesterday.

News reports quoting Ismail Sabri subsequently reported yesterday that premises listed under the HIDE system as potential Covid-19 risk locations would be ordered to be closed for three days effective immediately.

It was reported that the government had earlier produced the first HIDE list of business premises identified as Covid-19 hotspots with potential risk to spread the pandemic.

Food and beverage (F&B) outlet operators were also affected by the sudden announcement on the three-day closure starting today as they weighed the prospects of revenue loss and food wastage due to the government's policy.

According to a chief executive officer (CEO) of an F&B group which operates outlets at shopping centres, the Malaysia National Security Council issued a statement at about 11.30pm yesterday that premises listed under HIDE as potential Covid-19 pandemic risk locations would be ordered to be closed for three days from tomorrow (May 10).

The CEO, who spoke to theedgemarkets.com today on condition of anonymity, said shopping centres where the F&B group operates had informed the F&B group that the shopping centres would be closed for three days from tomorrow (May 10).

According to the CEO, the Malaysia National Security Council, which is also known as Majlis Keselamatan Negara Malaysia, around 12.15am today took down its online post on the May 10 starting date and reverted to the original starting date, which is today (May 9).

"It (three-day closure) involves shutting down my HQ (headquarters) and my CK (central kitchen). So we can't even supply to our unaffected stores.

"(The confusion) eventually kept my operations team awake till 4am (today).

"Today, we had two hours to go and get what we need before the hard shutdown," the CEO said.

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