Introduction: Malaysia after the pandemic

The Covid-19 crisis has been the single largest economic disruption in modern Malaysian history. Since the first case was discovered in January 2020, the country has endured at least four major waves of infections and recurrent impositions of strict measures to contain it (Figure 1). These containment measures – coupled with the collapse of international tourism – have mounted intense pressure on the Malaysian economy, households and workers. Despite the scale and scope of the government’s economic stimulus packages, these have remained insufficient to safeguard the most vulnerable groups from the ravages of the pandemic. The result has been devastating, with extensive shocks to economic growth and labour markets, and a surge in poverty and inequality among households.

Covid-19’s impacts will be long lasting too. More than two years since its onset, we are only now beginning to grasp the extent and persistence of the pandemic’s decimation. As data from the past two years are scrutinised, and newer data points become available – the picture that is emerging is dire. Covid-19 has catalysed a self-reinforcing vicious cycle of inequality that will continue to loom large, long after a macroeconomic recovery is achieved. It is the pandemic’s lasting imprints on inequality that will form a crucial policy and developmental challenge for Malaysia in the coming decade.

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