Setting up Covid-19 quarantine centre in Sabah island for fearful stateless communities? Govt will discuss, Ismail Sabri says

Ida Lim
·3-min read
Senior Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob at a media conference in Putrajaya October 28, 2020. — Bernama pic
Senior Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob at a media conference in Putrajaya October 28, 2020. — Bernama pic

KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 1 — The government will discuss the idea of setting up a quarantine centre on Pulau Omadal near Semporna, Sabah for the stateless community who is living on the island but afraid of stepping forward even if they have Covid-19, senior minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob said today.

Ismail Sabri was asked to respond to the Health Ministry’s comment of difficulties in bringing Pulau Omadal’s stateless persons who tested positive for Covid-19 to hospital for treatment as they are fearful due to their undocumented status.

He was also responding to the question of whether the government would be prepared to set up a quarantine centre on Pulau Omadal itself as it is only accessible through boats.

In response to the question, Ismail Sabri said this was “not a straightforward case”, as it involves the matter of individuals who are undocumented.

“If it involves undocumented individuals, it is not purely the Health Ministry’s responsibility.

“Yes, the Health Ministry will take action on those who are found positive through screenings and so on. But when it involves individuals or foreigners who are undocumented, then the Immigration Department has to be involved because it involves immigration issues.

“So, God willing, I will bring this to the special (National Security Council) meeting tomorrow to be discussed,” he said in his press briefing.

“Especially for those that involve cases like this. And to establish a new quarantine centre on that island, maybe the National Security Council Sabah can advise the meeting tomorrow whether we have a suitable place or not.

“Having a suitable place is one thing, (if) there is such a place, but we also have to take into account the personnel to monitor. So as I said, it is not straightforward, so we will look at it comprehensively, God willing, I will bring it to the meeting tomorrow,” he added.

On October 25, the Health Ministry announced the Omadal cluster as a new cluster in Sabah, with 21 having tested positive on that day.

Sekolah Bajau Laut Omadal — better known as Iskul Sama DiLaut Omadal in the Bajau language — is a community-based children-led school which had been providing literacy lessons for the undocumented Bajau Laut children on Pulau Omadal, and had on Facebook documented efforts to help contain the spread of Covid-19 on the island.

On October 27, Iskul noted that 11 individuals on Pulau Omadal had tested positive for Covid-19 in a first screening, with the sole Malaysian agreeing to be taken to Semporna for quarantine, while another 10 who are from the stateless community had fled home.

Iskul said its personnel who were wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) managed to track nine of the stateless individuals who tested positive, before providing food, vitamin C and face masks to these individuals which they then asked to stay at home.

Iskul had also on October 27 said, however, that it lacks the medical knowledge to monitor such individuals effectively and also lacked the authority to ensure everyone stayed at home, while also highlighting the need for government agencies to step in.

Subsequently on October 28, Iskul said that the Semporna district health office (PKD) has contacted it to discuss and work together on a feasible containment plan for Pulau Omadal, adding that it was glad to have an understanding with the Semporna PKD that the socio-demographics in Semporna requires a different approach.

Previously in the earlier phases of the movement control order (MCO) imposed in Malaysia, the Health Ministry had said it does not discriminate in the screening and treatment of undocumented migrants for Covid-19.

The Malaysian government later attracted criticism after immigration authorities reportedly rounded up undocumented migrants, but the government defended its actions by highlighting that undocumented migrants that tested negative for Covid-19 or recover would still be undocumented and would be treated as such by authorities.

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