Covid-19 quarantine for ministers not limited to three days, may be extended, says Health D-G

Danial Dzulkifly
·3-min read
Health director-general Tan Sri Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah speaks during his daily press conference on Covid-19 in Putrajaya February 9, 2020. — 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, 2020. — Picture by Hari Anggara

KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 9 — Ministers may be required to be quarantined for longer than three days after their return from abroad, Tan Sri Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah clarified today after uproar over its latest Covid-19 restrictions gave the impression of special treatment for the government elite.

The Health director-general said Cabinet members are still bound by the Ministry of Health’s (MoH) Covid-19 regulations, in response to yesterday’s announcement that shortened the 10-day quarantine period to just three days for ministers returning from official duties overseas.

In his press briefing today, Dr Noor Hisham explained that public health officials will deliberate on the risk factor to the public when any minister asks for a shortened quarantine period under the newly amended Section 29 of Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases Act 1988 (Act 342).

“If we read Section 29, ‘any Cabinet member who returns from any overseas official visit shall undergo observation for three days or undergo surveillance until be discharged without danger to the public.’

“So, the ‘or’ in the section could refer to seven days, 10 days, 14 days or even extended to 21 days. So, if we look at Section 29, they have to abide by the [travel] bubbles and they have to apply to the Cabinet and if the Cabinet approves then we (MoH) will have to see their schedule, SOP and the official duties [involved],” he explained this evening.

The controversial amendment gazetted under Section 15 of Act 342 takes effect from today.

Section 15 of Act 342 pertains to the observation or surveillance of contacts and that an authorised officer may order any contact to undergo observation in such place and for such period as he may think fit, or to undergo surveillance until he may be discharged without danger to the public.

The gazette was signed by Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr Adham Baba.

The health minister is empowered under Section 29 of Act 342 to exempt any person, article, vehicle, human remains or tissue, animals and any pathogenic substances from the operation of any of the Act’s provisions or any regulations made under the Act.

Dr Noor Hisham also explained that while the quarantine period has been reduced from 14 to 10 days for inbound travellers or returnees to the country, MoH can further reduce the days to seven as long as the returnees have met certain requirements such as conducting a Covid-19 screening three days prior to their arrival in the country.

Many quarters are now questioning the need to shorten the quarantine period for Cabinet ministers, including Opposition lawmakers and even Perikatan Nasional allies such as Datuk Seri Najib Razak, who stated the revised period could lead to even more dangerous Covid-19 strains entering the country.

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