Director-General of health Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah has drawn the ire of politicians and doctors for recommending the closure of Parliament for two weeks following an outbreak of Covid-19 in the House.
The decision, which prompted more than 100 MPs to stage a march on Parliament yesterday, was perceived to have been based on politics rather than science. As the government had been due to answer some hard questions in yesterday’s sitting, the shutting down of the House appeared too convenient for many’s liking.
Noor Hisham had said Parliament was closed for two weeks from July 29 after 11 parliamentary staff, out of 1,183 who had been screened, tested positive for Covid-19.
Dr Musa Nordin, consultant paediatrician at the KPJ Damansara Specialist Hospital, questioned why Parliament was not allowed to meet when the positivity rate had dropped to 0.9%, below the World Health Organization’s (WHO) benchmark.
An epidemic is deemed to be out of control when the positivity rate exceeds 5%.
“As a geographical unit, Parliament was therefore well below the WHO’s red flag of pandemic control.”
If one were to go by the metrics of the national recovery plan, said Musa, Parliament should not be closed.
He said the Dewan Rakyat had also achieved population immunity as a high number of MPs and officers were vaccinated.
“Parliament should be among the safest places in the country.
“One wonders whether the D-G in his recommendations to the prime minister was basing them on the science of public health or the science of politicking,” he said.
Bandar Kuching MP Dr Kelvin Yii, who is a medical doctor and chair of the parliamentary select committee on health, had said the D-G was using unnecessary scientific parameters to justify closing Parliament.
Yii said the “CT level” cited by Dr Noor Hisham to justify closing Parliament for two weeks is not a metric for public health decision-making.
“It is a virology tool rather than a metric to make decisions on how long a location must be closed,” Yii had said.
As the face for the national response to Covid-19, Noor Hisham has received awards and public approval for bringing the crisis under control at the start of the epidemic last year.
Public opinion appears to have changed since then.
Youth participants of the #Lawan rally in Kuala Lumpur on July 31 held placards telling the health director-general not to be a puppet of the government.
The main target of the protesters, however, was Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin. The youth demanded his resignation, a full parliamentary sitting and an automatic loan repayment moratorium for all to ease the economic hardship caused by the lockdowns.
Pejuang information chief Ulya Aqamah Husamudin said Noor Hisham must not blindly serve the government.
Ulya said Noor Hisham must stop doing favours for the Muhyiddin administration.
“He must realise he serves the people. The people come first,” Ulya said.
Former Bersatu supreme council member and veteran newsman A Kadir Jasin wrote on Facebook that Noor Hisham was – willingly or otherwise – taking the government’s side in postponing the Parliament sitting.
He said people had no faith in the “rotten” Perikatan Nasional government, therefore anyone associated with it will be painted with the same brush.
“No matter how genuine and professional Dr Noor Hisham is in giving advice, Muhyiddin and his allies will use the opportunity and space to save themselves,” he said.
Kadir said a Parliament sitting was not so dangerous to health that it required Noor Hisham’s intervention.
On Twitter on Sunday, Lembah Pantai MP Fahmi Fadzil also questioned Dr Noor Hisham’s advice to suspend a sitting due to concerns about a potential Covid-19 super-spreader event.
The PKR communications director pointed out that no similar advice was offered last week following reports of visits, including by MPs, to the prime minister’s residence.
“Where was the concern and advice from @DGHisham when dozens of people went back and forth from Muhyiddin’s house last week?
“And many of those people also attended Parliament? (Is it) selective concern?” asked Fahmi.
Meanwhile, former parliamentarian Ibrahim Ali said the health official was not to be blamed as he was merely a civil servant.
The Parti Bumiputera Perkasa Malaysia president said Noor Hisham could not be expected to defy Putrajaya.
“To me, this postponement was planned from the very first day. Perikatan Nasional had only opened parliament after being instructed by the palace.
“This is (Covid-19) just an excuse, one cannot blame Dr Noor Hisham.
“How can the D-G defy the government? He will lose his pension and face disciplinary action.
“If you want to blame anyone, blame the driver,” Ibrahim added, meaning the person in charge, which would be the prime minister. – TMI