It has been close to a year and a half since Malaysian life was first changed by the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic…
The Movement Control Order (MCO) was only the first in a long series of lockdowns and economic/social restrictions that have altered everyday life in an unprecedented manner across all segments of the population, having a profound impact on Malaysian happiness levels.
The ordeal first began on 18th March 2020, the day which marked the start of the first MCO period – which would later come to be known as MCO 1.0. All state borders were closed during this lockdown period and only essential businesses were allowed to operate. We were eventually able to transition to the Conditional Movement Control Order (CMCO) and the Recovery Movement Control Order (RMCO) with each phase having looser restrictions on the economic and social sectors, but unfortunately, the RMCO phase did not mark the end of pandemic life.
A surge of infections around the end of 2020 spread throughout Malaysia which led to us having to return to the state of lockdown at the beginning of 2021 – a period which is now known as MCO 2.0. Conditions improved briefly as we transitioned to CMCO again in March of this year, but since then the infection rate in Malaysia has risen sharply, leading to yet another lockdown in May – MCO 3.0, and a total economic lockdown from June onwards – the Emergency Movement Control Order (EMCO).
In the meantime, the Malaysian government has been doing it’s best to vaccinate as many citizens as possible through the National COVID-19 Immunisation Programme, while also announcing the National Recovery Plan – a roadmap which indicates a timeline where Malaysia will ideally be able to reopen most of its economic and social sectors by the end of the year 2021.
How have all of these unprecedented events and fluctuating circumstances affected the happiness and well-being of the Malaysian population? We took a look at the trending data in our latest survey on this topic…
In our past studies on happiness and economic outlook, we found that Malaysians were generally reasonably happy, with the majority having a positive outlook regarding their economic status apart from those who were unemployed or without any formal education. Looking at the % of happiness levels in 2019 – prior to the discovery of COVID-19, we see that Malaysian happiness levels were holding between 64-69% throughout the year.
1Q20 saw the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic and the start of the first MCO, during which Malaysian happiness levels plummeted all the way down to 47% – the lowest that happiness levels have been in the two and a half year period between present day and the start of 2019.
By 2Q20, Malaysian happiness levels increased slightly as the first MCO was successful in reducing the number of local infections, giving the government some leeway to reduce restrictions and introduce the CMCO phase where Malaysians could have slightly more freedom of movement and were again allowed to operate non-essential businesses.
The happiness of Malaysians continued to increase as the year went on, and by 3Q20 Malaysian happiness levels reached 70%. This was the highest point that happiness levels reached in the year 2020, as Malaysians had good reason to be at the peak of their optimism. By this time, the COVID-19 pandemic appeared to be under complete control in Malaysia, with the number of daily new infections being kept to just single digits at one point. Furthermore, the government had announced that the country had entered the RMCO phase nationwide, where almost all businesses and activities were allowed once again – provided that SOPs were still maintained and there were no large gatherings of people. This was also the period where Malaysians had the most freedom of movement, being mostly able to freely travel between states. The local travel industry was also able to thrive somewhat for a brief time as Malaysians took the opportunity to escape the confines of their homes for the first time since the beginning of the MCO period and enjoy all the holiday locations that Malaysia has to offer.
Unfortunately, this optimism and freedom would not last as COVID-19 cases slowly and surely began to rise by 4Q20. Due to the increase in cases, some areas of Malaysia were forced to re-impose restrictions and revert back to the CMCO phase, and subsequently there was an unavoidable buzz among Malaysians speculating that there would soon be another lockdown due to the rise in cases around the country – stemming particularly from Sabah. As such, Malaysians’ happiness levels dropped to 57%. Overall still positive, but just barely so amidst the uncertainty of another possible lockdown and some lingering optimism that the Malaysian Government would be able to rein in the number of daily infections.
With 2020 behind us, the start of 2021 was a period of optimism for many Malaysians. With the most recent MCO 2.0 lockdown over with and a new year to look forward to, Malaysian happiness levels rose to 78% – the highest that they have ever been since the start of 2019. This high level of happiness was also due to the added optimism that came from the roll-out of the Malaysian National Immunisation Plan – the Government initiative to ensure that everyone living in Malaysia would be able to receive a COVID-19 vaccination free of charge by the year 2022. In February 2021, COVID-19 vaccination officially began in Malaysia with frontliners being the very first group of people to receive the vaccine, which many Malaysians saw as the country taking its first proper steps toward normalcy and the end of the pandemic.
That brings us to the present day. At the end of 2Q21, our data collected following the announcement of the Enhanced Movement Control Order (EMCO) shows us that Malaysian happiness levels have plunged once again to 48% – more or less back to the same low point that we experienced during the very first MCO. This was to be expected given the overwhelming increase in COVID-19 infections throughout Malaysia and the implementation of a nationwide EMCO where only essential businesses are allowed to operate with a minimal amount of personnel and travel between districts and states is off-limits to almost everyone except those travelling for the sake of essential work and emergency circumstances.
Taking a closer look at the data collected, we can see how happiness levels have changed among the different subgroups of the Malaysian population over the past two and a half years.
Although they did not record the highest levels of happiness out of all Malaysians, the T20 group is the one that has sustained the highest average level of happiness throughout the entire pandemic, without being subjected to the same pattern of highs and lows seen in the other subgroups which was created by the contrasting prospects of the Malaysian people as we went from the MCO, to the CMCO and then RMCO only to revert back again.
Business owners and university grads recorded the greatest contrast in happiness levels from quarter to quarter between 3Q20 and 2Q21, being the most positive with happiness levels over 90% during 1Q21 only to drop to 44/43% in 2Q21. This is in line with the fact that these two particular groups are the ones that would be most affected by the immense uncertainty that they face regarding the future. Businesses are unsure how long they will be able to continue operating the current conditions and increasingly unsure as to when they will be able to return to normal operations. In the meantime, university grads find themselves freshly released from an unprecedented academic year of online classes and online exams, only to be faced with the uncertainty of whether or not they will be able to find a place amongst an economic climate that has been crippled by the past year and a half of the global pandemic.
Taking a look at the changes in happiness levels among different age groups, Gen X (Born in 1960s – early 1980s) and Gen Y (those born in late 1980s – mid 1990s) appear to have had similar experiences in terms of the happiness levels that they experienced throughout the time period of the pandemic. One noticeable difference can be seen in 1Q20, as the start of the very first MCO period appears to have had a much more drastic negative effect on the happiness levels of Gen Y compared to Gen X. This is an understandable phenomenon considering that those in the Gen Y age group would be less likely to have the financial stability and savings to fall back on when faced with a sudden loss of income, while also being more likely to have their happiness levels tied to social activities and the advancement of their careers. On the other hand, those in the Gen X group would have been more likely to have the financial stability to deal with the initial setback caused by the MCO, and would have been somewhat more able to remain positive in during the 1-2 month period of the initial MCO which was relatively short in comparison to the total duration of the pandemic thus far.
The last 2 subgroups we looked at are those who are single compared to those who are married with kids. Those who are single experienced a much more drastic drop in happiness during the start of MCO compared to those who are married with kids, recording a happiness level of 37% during 1Q20 which was the lowest recorded happiness level out of all groups throughout the entire duration of the pandemic. Those who are married with kids on the other hand were able to sustain a relatively high happiness level from 1Q20 through 3Q20 compared to other groups, but were still subject to big drops in happiness during 4Q20 and 2Q21, which coincide with the MCO 2.0 and EMCO lockdowns respectively. This is most likely due to the stress of managing their children at home who would have been unable to attend school, with the situation being at its worse during the most recent EMCO period where schools are closed indefinitely and both parents and children alike would be uncertain of when the children would eventually be able to return to completing their education in a physical school environment.
Despite Malaysian happiness levels being near to their lowest point recently, there is still good reason to hope that things will improve in the second half of the year 2021. The number of daily cases still remains extremely high, but there is a silver lining in the form of Malaysia’s high vaccination rate, which currently is around 456,500 doses administered per day – ranking in the top 15 out of all the countries worldwide.
Going by approximate calculations, this means that Malaysia should be able to reach the point where 70% of the population is fully vaccinated within the next two months provided that we continue to maintain our current vaccination rate.
This would actually be sooner than the expectations set out by the Government’s National Recovery Plan, which states that 60% of the population must be fully vaccinated in order to meet the requirements to enter phase 4 (estimated to be around November-December 2021), where all economic sectors and the majority of social sectors would be allowed to resume.
With any luck, we can look forward to Malaysia’s situation improving towards the end of the year. In the meantime, we can only do our best to ensure that we can eventually return to normal by doing our part to get vaccinated and maintain social distancing measures.
If you would like to take a closer look at the data, feel free to reach out to us at email@example.com
In the meantime, please take care and stay safe!