KUALA LUMPUR, 28 June 2020:
It never rains but it pours, best describes the fate of some 3,000 blind masseurs who lost their source of income for three months when the Movement Control Order (MCO) was enforced following the spread of Covid-19 infection.
While most sectors of the economy were allowed to reopen in stages since the Conditional MCO on May 4, this group continued to feel the pressure as the reflexology sector was still restricted from resuming operations, resulting in further loss of their commission-based income.
However, most were relieved after their plight caught the attention of the government – which then decided that spa, wellness and reflexology services, including those provided by blind masseurs, may resume operations from July 1, as announced by Senior Minister (Security Cluster) Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob on Friday.
Malaysian Association of the Blind (MAB) chief executive officer George Thomas said the decision reflects the government’s concern for the visually impaired, most of whom have been employed as therapists at foot reflexology or massage centres.
“Unlike other people with disabilities, their movements are very limited. During the MCO, CMCO and RMCO they actually could not go anywhere or be engaged in other jobs, so they had no money earned at all.
“When the government made the announcement, it was heartening for them to know that they could now continue to earn some income. During the MCO, the association had to provide food and other necessities to those living around Kuala Lumpur, to help ease their burden.”
Touching on the standard operating procedures (SOPs) to be implemented, he said together with the industry players they have discussed the matter with the ministry through the Social Welfare Department for further action.
“The final details of the SOPs are still at the National Security Council (MKN) level, and have not been relayed to us. We hope to get them within these two days before the massage centres reopen.”
George is confident that when the centres reopen, all SOPs laid by the MKN and MoH would be adhered to, including procedures on registration, body temperature checks, use of face shields, making sure hand sanitisers are available, and that only Malaysian citizens are allowed to work on the premises.
“We hope the government will bear the costs of Covid-19 swab tests to be conducted on the blind therapists, as the funds collected by MAB had been dwindling.
“Most will not be able to afford to pay for the swab test which is over RM300. To operate, they have to buy items like face masks, face shields, gloves and so forth.”
George was also worried the sector might experience slow business due to the strict SOPs and people might be cautious in seeking massage services as they are aware the Covid-19 pandemic is far from over.
George said the RM300 one-off financial assistance for the disabled and single mothers under the National Economic Recovery Plan had come in handy for the group and the initiative was proof that in times of difficulties, the government had the interests of all citizens at heart.
Meanwhile, therapist Hermi Abd Rahim, 42, expressed joy after learning that he could return to work after almost three months of being jobless, following the Covid-19 pandemic.
“As the government has given us the green light to resume operations, we must comply with all guidelines and SOPs. It may feel strange at first, but we need to get used to them,” said Hermi who hails from Alor Setar, Kedah, and has been in the business since 1996.
In echoing Hermi’s views, Vanagopal Subramaniam, who has nearly 15 years’ experience in the field, said he was glad to hear the decision on the reopening and hoped the government will help to promote the sector further.
“I hope more will be aware of the benefits and advantages of reflexology and will try out our services,“ said Vanagopal, a former paralympic athlete in the (discus) throwing event.