Ex-Health D-G: Noor Hisham ‘a toothless tiger’

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While handling the SARS outbreak, Ismail told the politicians to “shut up”.


Director-General of health Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah is akin to a “toothless tiger” because no one is listening to him on how to handle the Covid-19 pandemic, said his predecessor, former director-general Dr Mohamed Ismail Merican.

According to Ismail, Noor Hisham should have put his foot down and not allowed any social gatherings to take place when the country was in crisis.

“Enough of having prayers in the mosque and surau, Raya gatherings and Ramadan bazaars. To me it is irresponsible.

“If I were the D-G, I would have said no, no need for all this,” he said at an online forum hosted by Wong Chun Wai, The Star Media Group adviser.

Ismail said Noor Hisham should be firm in his decision but instead it looked like he had been pressured by politicians to make populist decisions.

“When I was the D-G whatever I said went, because the prime minister supported me. Now the D-G is like a toothless tiger and nobody is listening to him, he can bang tables all he likes.”

Ismail, who retired in 2011 and oversaw the country’s management of the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) outbreak in 2003, laid down several strategies with the emphasis on collaboration and co-ordination between different stakeholders to mitigate the spread of the virus in the country.

He added that when he was faced with political intervention while handling the SARS outbreak, he told the politicians to “shut up”.

“I told all politicians to shut up, literally. The only person who can speak on policy decisions is the minister of health. Technical matters would come to me.

“Of course, I will brief the minister on what is going on,” he said.

Ismail said these restrictions are important in order for the country to move forward and contain the spread of the virus.

“We have to be strict with our standard operating procedures for everyone. No Ramadan, no Raya gatherings, no visitors, no interstate travel, no social gatherings, no dining in, nothing for a period of time. It’s not permanent.”

This is the first time Ismail has spoken publicly about how Malaysia has handled the pandemic. He said it would be “irresponsible” if he did not do so given the current situation.

The reason is obvious, the health system has crumbled. I have had many calls from specialists, former hospital directors, etc, to do something.

“They know how I work, and I call a spade a spade, but I know not to be too aggressive. Cases are mounting. It will be irresponsible for me not to speak up.” – TMI