KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysian lawmakers from across the political divide have spoken out against a decision to allow Cabinet ministers returning from official overseas visits to undergo a three-day observation period instead of the standard 10 days.
They were referring to a federal gazette signed by Health Minister Adham Baba, which stated that Cabinet ministers who return from such visits “shall undergo observation for three days or undergo surveillance until they can be discharged without posing a danger to the public”.
The exemption will be in place from Feb 9 until Aug 1, throughout the duration of Malaysia’s state of emergency.
It excuses ministers from the protocol that all Malaysians returning from overseas must undergo a 10-day mandatory quarantine upon arrival.
In a Facebook post on Tuesday (Feb 9), former prime minister and United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) MP Najib Razak highlighted that a three-day quarantine for ministers returning from overseas is “dangerous” because the average incubation period for COVID-19 is five to six days.
“There is a danger that those infected will be released too early and infect many more people after mistakenly thinking they are COVID-free,” said Najib.
He cited how a short quarantine for politicians returning from the Sabah state election in 2020 did not stop the spread of COVID-19 from the Borneo state to the peninsula.
The MP for Pekan also warned that it would be “even more dangerous” if the infection is from abroad because of the higher likelihood of contracting the United Kingdom or South Africa COVID-19 variants, which are more infectious.
“At a time when the number of active cases has reached 51,000 … our health system is unlikely to survive if the contagious UK mutation with a rate of 70 per cent spreads to our country,” said Najib.
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Criticising the exemption, Mr Lim Guan Eng, who is Democratic Action Party (DAP) secretary-general, said that by allowing ministers “special privileges not granted to the general public”, the Perikatan Nasional government has “proven that it is not interested” in complying with the standard operating procedures (SOPs) to combat COVID-19.
“Such double standards and lackadaisical attitude could have contributed partly to the recent surge in COVID-19 infections to 245,552 cases as of Feb 8, 2021, of which 51,977 are active, and 896 deaths, making Malaysia the (worst-hit country) in ASEAN in per capita terms,” Mr Lim said in a statement.
He also noted how politicians in the government have previously been caught not adhering to SOPs, citing how ministers have been seen not wearing masks in public events.
Mr Lim also noted how Plantation Industries and Commodities Minister Khairuddin Aman Razali was fined “only RM1,000” after failing to observe quarantine SOPs when he returned to Malaysia after a trip to Turkey in August 2020.
“In contrast, a 72-year-old Malay lady was charged in court, fined RM8,000 and a day’s jail for a similar offence,” said Mr Lim, who is also MP for Bagan.
EXEMPTION SYMBOLISES ABUSE OF POWER: DR DZULKEFLY
Opposition MP Dzulkefly Ahmad, who is former health minister, said the gazetted order to shorten the quarantine period from 10 days to three meant the Cabinet ministers are exposing others to the risk of getting infected.
“Unless ministers are all vaccinated (of whom none is), they actually risk the lives of others with the seven days of freedom,” the Kuala Selangor MP was quoted as saying by Malaysiakini .
“Especially since the majority of them are part of the high-risk group (above 60 years old) and some have medical conditions such as hypertension and diabetes. They are also endangering their own health,” added Dr Dzulkefly, who is strategy director for Parti Amanah Negara (Amanah) and a toxicologist.
He added that the exemption symbolises the “abuse of power” the opposition feared would come about with the proclamation of the state of emergency.
In his statement, Dr Dzulkefly also urged the health ministry to outline the criteria for the exemptions.
As of Monday, Malaysia has reported a total of 245,552 COVID-19 cases, of which 51,977 are active cases.
Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin has just returned from his first official overseas trip to Indonesia last Friday, while Foreign Affairs Minister Hishammuddin Hussein is on a working visit to Abu Dhabi.
DAP’s stalwart Mr Lim Kit Siang called for Mr Muhyiddin to retract the exemption order to uphold his promise that there would be no “double standards” in complying with COVID-19 quarantine SOPs.
The MP for Iskandar Puteri cited Mr Muhyiddin’s televised address in October last year when the prime minister stressed that he, as prime minister, was not exempted from quarantine protocols.