Three-day quarantine for ministers draws flak across the board

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Malaysians upset by “double standards” in three-day rule for ministers.

Politicians, and the public today strongly expressed discontent over a new rule allowing Cabinet ministers returning from official overseas visits to undergo a three-day observation period instead of 10 days.

According to a new ministerial order issued by the Government on Monday (Feb 8), ministers returning from abroad will undergo a reduced period of three days of observation or be under home surveillance until discharge without danger to the public.

Effective Dec 14 last year, Malaysians returning from abroad and those who have had close contact with a person infected with Covid-19 will need to be quarantined for 10 days instead of the earlier practice of 14 days.

The Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases (Exemption) Order 2021, exempts Cabinet ministers from undergoing a 10-day mandatory quarantine period upon arrival from overseas.

Exercising the powers conferred to him by Section 29 of Act 342, Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr Adham Baba signed the federal gazette, which takes effect today (Feb 9).

“This order has effect for the period from Feb 9, 2021 until Aug 1, 2021.

Seth Akmal/TMI

“Subject to paragraph 3, the Minister exempts Cabinet ministers who return from any official overseas visit from the application of Section 15 of the Act,” the order stated.

Among those to first voice dissatisfaction over the ruling was former premier, Datuk Seri Najib Razak who noted that the average incubation period before Covid-19 infections were detectable was around five to six days, beyond the three days of surveillance that ministers only need to perform under the exemption.

“There is a risk if those who are infected are wrongly released early, leading to them infecting more people under the mistaken assumption that they are free of Covid-19.

Bernama

“It is even more dangerous if those wrongly released carry the infection from abroad, as there are possibilities for it to be new Covid-19 mutations that are more aggressive, such as the UK variant and the South Africa variant,” he added.

Najib also recalled that there have been cases of lawmakers who were released from self-quarantine only to later test positive for Covid-19.

He cited the cases of Kampung Tunku assemblyman Lim Yi Wei, Maharani assemblyman Nor Hayati Bachok and Ayer Limau state assemblyman Datuk Amiruddin Yusof as examples.

The trio had participated in campaigning for their parties during last year’s Sabah state election and tested positive following their return to the peninsula.

Najib said it was unwise to expose the country’s health system to further risks from new Covid-19 variants when it was already at its limit.

Former health minister Dzulkefly Ahmad asked for an explanation of the science behind the decision.

He noted that the Health Ministry previously determined the Covid-19 incubation was around a 10-day time frame.

“So, how did the Health Ministry arrive at the three-day time frame for quarantine?

Bernama

“What is the science behind such an unprecedented move? Who is the authority that provided for such a counter-intuitive measure in public health and infectious disease control?” he said in a statement today.

Dzulkefly, a toxicologist by training, said that it was extremely irresponsible to bend the rules for the powers that be.

He questioned if becoming a minister comes with greater immunity to the SARS CoV-2 virus.

The Kuala Selangor MP said leeway could only be given if someone had been vaccinated, but none of the ministers has received the Covid-19 vaccine which will only arrive at the end of the month.

Former deputy health minister Lee Boon Chye said ministers could still develop Covid-19 even if the initial tests were negative in the first three days.

“Symptoms could develop after a week, and they could become infectious by the fifth day.

“If the quarantine is only for three days, they risk starting a cluster among ministers who interact with the public a lot,” said Lee, who is also a cardiologist.

The Gopeng MP added that if the government constantly asked people to work from home, there was no reason why ministers couldn’t do the same.

Bandar Kuching MP Dr Kelvin Yii, urged the Perikatan Nasional Plus government not to make rules on Covid-19 based on political whims and fancy.

“Every decision, especially to curb a dangerous infectious disease must be based on proper science and data,” he said.

Yii, who is also a doctor by training, shared the view that the ministers could start developing Covid-19 symptoms after the quarantine period due to the longer incubation time.

“This decision not only shows double standards when it comes to Covid-19 enforcement but more importantly, it potentially puts the lives of the public in danger, especially when the nature of the job requires ministers to meet many people and even have public events,” he said.

He added that Adham was not solely responsible for the order, as it is a matter of collective responsibility by the cabinet.

DAP stalwart Lim Kit Siang said the order allowing ministers to be placed under just three days’ observation went against the spirit of Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin’s vow that Covid-19 regulations would be applied to all regardless of station.

“In October last year, Muhyiddin pledged in a special address to the nation over television on the latest Covid-19 situation in the country that there would be no practice of double standards in complying with Covid-19 quarantine orders.

Firdaus Latif

“The prime minister said he himself and his ministers were not exempted from adhering to the standard operating procedures (SOPs) set by the Health Ministry in this matter,” Lim said in a statement today.

Lawyer Jadadish Chandra said the gazette violates Article 8 of the Federal Constitution as all persons are equal before the law and entitled to equal protection.

He said the Covid-19 virus did not discriminate between ministers and ordinary people.

Lawyer Syed Iskandar Syed Jaafar al-Mahdzar said the order was irrational, disproportionate and tainted with bias because Adham was favouring his Cabinet colleagues.

Hafiz Yatim/Malaysiakini

“The order can be challenged by way of declaration as it is illegal,” he said, adding that Adham should withdraw it before it caused further embarrassment to the government.

Lawyer Muhammad Rafique Rashid Ali said Adham’s decision smacked of double standards because he appeared to be safeguarding the interests of a select few.

Malaysiakini

“He cannot give preferential treatment to himself and his Cabinet by way of an order,” he said.

Members of the public were also upset by the “double standards” in the three-day rule for ministers.

Tracy Tai asked: “Why can’t they (ministers) be quarantined 14 days like everyone else, and get swab before going out. (sic) Think about the consequences of spreading to community.”

Echoing Tai’s sentiments, MK Ganesan commented: “Why such deviation from the rest of us? This is clearly forsaking safety and a double standard. Irresponsible.”

Vanitha Rangganathan, who had similar thoughts, said: “We all pose the same threat to each other as long as we are not vaccinated. This is baffling.”

Lim ML, who was also confused by the ruling, asked: “In times of a public health crisis, decisions must be made based on science, facts and figures. Is this the SOP adopted by WHO?”

Anis Hashim, who was one of the many commenters displeased with the reduced observation period, called on the Government to reconsider the ruling.

“Be a responsible government and walk the talk!” she said. “Put all the politicians and ministers to the same SOP!”

 

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