KUALA LUMPUR – Mamak restaurant owner Rafee Ali has been busy getting ready for the longer operating hours from Friday (April 1) when Malaysia eases most of its Covid-19 protocols.

Mr Rafee has even prepared a “quarantine centre” for his staff in the worst-case scenario. 

“My workers are mostly foreigners, they live in a dorm. So when one of them contracted Covid-19 last time and had to observe home surveillance, it became a problem because we didn’t have enough space,” he told The Straits Times.

“We are taking measures on how to stay safe once we go full capacity, and continue operating 24 hours if one of us contracts the virus,” the 61-year-old said.

Mr Rafee is among a group of business operators who are excited to return to normalcy while taking measures to stay safe.

The country will reopen its border to all international visitors from April 1, allowing travellers who are fully vaccinated against Covid-19 to enter without quarantine. All restrictions on business operating hours will be removed and prayer activities allowed without physical distancing.

Business operators are hoping to bounce back after more than two years of “slumps”.

A report by retail research firm Retail Group Malaysia on March 9 found that cafes and restaurants’ sales had shrunk by 6.2 per cent in the first quarter of 2021, and further declined by 10.9 per cent in the second quarter and by 0.8 per cent in the third quarter, before making a comeback at 30.8 per cent in the fourth quarter.

It expects businesses to climb by 31.2 per cent during the first quarter of 2022 as compared to the same period last year, because of the Chinese New Year celebrations and interstate travel.

“With reopening of borders, I truly expect my business to bounce back. It’s been a hard couple of years and there were so many times I almost gave up,” nyonya restaurant owner Beatrice Thye told ST.

“I think we (businesses) are ready to live with Covid-19, we need to,” she said.

A survey by tax consulting firm Ernst & Young (EY) found that the majority of Malaysian businesses (86 per cent) are prepared to live with Covid-19 and are prioritising technology adoption in the immediate term (77 per cent).

Over 500 companies, which include large companies as well as micro, small and medium enterprises, were polled.

“Findings show 86 per cent of survey respondents are prioritising people safety and wellbeing and implementing new processes to comply with the prevailing protocols, which include adhering to the one-metre physical distancing requirement,” EY Malaysia Managing Partner Abdul Rauf Rashid told ST.

“Overall, Malaysia is ready to reopen safely, with over half or 56 per cent of businesses indicating their optimism on business recovery from late 2022,” he added.

The central bank on Wednesday said that the Malaysian economy is expected to improve further, with growth projected to be between 5.3 per cent and 6.3 per cent in 2022 amid the reopening of the economy and borders.

The economy registered a growth of 3.1 percent in 2021 because of Covid-19 containment measures.

“While we are not yet out of the woods, we are better prepared now,” the central bank said in its economic and monetary review 2021 report.

“Better Covid-19 management and higher vaccination rates will help mitigate the adverse impact of future resurgences and thus protect our healthcare system from being overwhelmed. With these factors in mind, we expect less disruption to economic activity and spending in the event of resurgences.”

  • Additional reporting by Ram Anand

What you need to know as Malaysia enters the endemic phase:

– Wearing of face masks in public is still mandatory

– MySejahtera app check-in at all premises remains mandatory

– Those who test positive for Covid-19 still have to abide by guidelines and health protocols

– No more restrictions on business operating hours

-Religious activities at houses of worship are no longer subject to physical distancing rules

– Interstate travel is open to all regardless of vaccination status