Avoiding Covid-19 tsunami in Malaysia: Health D-G suggests no elections during Emergency in lessons from India, school holiday until end-May

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Health director-general Tan Sri Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah speaks during his daily press conference on Covid-19 in Putrajaya February 9, 2021. — Picture by Hari Anggara
Health director-general Tan Sri Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah speaks during his daily press conference on Covid-19 in Putrajaya February 9, 2021. — Picture by Hari Anggara

KUALA LUMPUR, May 8 — Malaysia could avoid facing a “tsunami” of Covid-19 cases by learning from India’s experience by not holding any elections for now including in Sarawak, and by barring interstate and inter-district travel, Health director-general Tan Sri Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah said today.

Dr Noor Hisham was sharing the Health Ministry’s three recommendations to the National Security Council to avert such a “tsunami” of Covid-19 infections.

“We propose no interstate travel, no inter-district travel whether for ‘balik kampung’ (return to hometowns) or so on,” he said in a press conference broadcast live this evening on Covid-19 updates, his first such media appearance in about two months.

“So now for the education sector, maybe we will recommend for the holiday to be extended to the end of this month, so that they stay at home and the chain of infection can be broken,” he said of the suggestion to have school holidays until the end of May.

Another recommendation was to avoid mass gatherings, including by not holding any elections, for now, he said.

“For example, we have to learn from India, the actions that led to a ‘tsunami’ in India. What can we learn from there and avoid a ‘tsunami’ in our country?” he said.

He noted that India’s leaders had in early March announced that the Covid-19 situations there was well controlled and was expected to end, and that had led to many citizens in India not complying with precautionary measures and that there was relaxation such as gatherings for religious ceremonies and weddings and at beaches.

He said India had also carried out five state elections where there was a lack of physical distancing and wearing of face masks, noting: “We have to learn from India to avoid elections as we have seen in Sabah’s state election (last year), and we worry if we do not use the Emergency Ordinance, the Sarawak state election would have to be held, which is in June.”

“So with the Emergency Ordinance, we can avoid the Sarawak state election. We also used the Emergency Ordinance to avoid three by-elections — Batu Sapi, Bugaya and Gerik,” he said.

He cited the Pasai cluster as an example, which he had described as a cluster from a super-spreader event involving a funeral, which ultimately resulted in 2,693 Covid-19 cases recorded with more than 58 longhouses involved and 29 deaths recorded. The cluster had lasted for a few months before it ended on April 13.

Noting that the Pasai cluster was sparked with just one person returning from Johor to Sarawak to attend a family member’s funeral, he suggested that elections may result in infections spreading.

“If there are elections, there would certainly be gatherings. Imagine if Sarawakians and Sabahans were to return from Peninsular Malaysia to vote in the interiors, infections would certainly happen. This is our worry. If infections happen in Sarawak in the interiors, our health centres may not be able to detect and treat those patients, and also the long distance, it’s difficult for us to give the best treatment.

“So what we need to implement are pre-emptive actions before we get a Covid-19 tsunami in our country,” he said, citing the SOPs and vaccination for Covid-19.

“And we have to avoid interstate travel and MOH’s advice is for all to stay at home if there are no important matters. If there are important matters, comply with SOPs,” he said.

Under the nationwide Emergency from January 11 until the expected end date of August 1, there will be no general election, state elections and by-elections in Malaysia (which are usually required under the law within 60 days once the legislative body is dissolved or once there is a vacancy).

Apart from such recommendations, Dr Noor Hisham also stressed the need to not hold any open houses during the Hari Raya celebrations.

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