PETALING JAYA, Oct 7: Two medical groups have attributed the recent spike in Covid-19 cases to the government’s failure to institute strict quarantine procedures for those returning from Sabah.
Spokesmen for the Malaysian Medical Association (MMA) and the Galen Centre for Health and Social Policy said a 14-day quarantine should have been made compulsory regardless of initial test results, with returnees tested a second time on the thirteenth day. These procedures would be similar to the procedures for international arrivals.
The failure to quarantine, they added, was compounded by the failure to practise social distancing, the wearing of masks and other SOPs.
Recently, Lembah Pantai MP Fahmi Fadzli criticised the decision against placing Sabah returnees in quarantine prior to Sept 27 and, after that, to allow them to leave without any temporary movement restriction after just one negative test.
In a televised message yesterday, Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin admitted that the Sabah election had contributed to the surge in cases over the last month.
Dr Subramaniam Muniandy, the MMA president, criticised the government for being slow to react to the risks posed by those returning from Sabah during the election period.
“The mandatory testing and quarantine for returnees should have been imposed earlier as many Malaysians were already travelling to affected areas in Sabah in the days leading up to the state election,” he told FMT.
Galen Centre CEO Azrul Khalib agreed, saying this was a decision “that should have been straightforward to make”.
“The 14 days self-quarantine would have been absolutely beneficial in controlling the spread of infection, particularly of politicians who would have met and engaged with far more people than the average person,” he said.
Azrul said holding the election during the pandemic was risky but added that those concerns could have been mitigated if it was “properly managed” and “there was discipline and strong SOP compliance by both politicians and the general public.”
Subramaniam said the lack of adherence to widely accepted SOPs deserved significant blame for the new spike in cases.
“The health ministry had done its part in repeatedly reminding the public on the importance in adhering to the SOPs, but it appears to have gone unheeded by many, including many politicians who were campaigning in Sabah,” he said.
“Some of the politicians and people at these political events were seen not observing physical distancing while some had their face masks down as could clearly be seen in footage of the campaign highlights on TV.”
But Dr Kuljit Singh, president of the Association of Private Hospitals of Malaysia, said one should not pin the blame on poor quarantine procedures without the evidence to back the claim.
He said it was likely that those behind the decision were looking at the pattern of spread and infectivity. Perhaps this was the advice given to them, he added.
He told FMT one could not know for sure whether the spike was caused by poor quarantine procedures.
Dr Subramaniam said politicians needed to lead by example.
“Members of the public are being caught and fined for flouting the RMCO and SOPs on a daily basis, but the VIPs seem to be getting away scot free,” he said.
“The people are now expressing their anger over double standards in enforcement.”