#KlusterMenteri sparking panic among M’sians

by S BIRRUNTHA / pic by ARIF KARTONO

THE nation’s capital city saw fewer activities yesterday, a day after the feared “Minister Cluster” came true with 432 new cases reported on Monday, which at the time was the highest recorded in the country.

Morning traffic was light yesterday, shopping malls were practically deserted as early as Monday evening and even Putrajaya’s roads were not as busy, as if marking the Cabinet ministers’ home quarantine.

The #klustermenteri hashtag made its way around social media as Covid-19 cases started to spike since the return of politicians to the peninsula after the Sabah state election.

What started in jest, however, turned to panic when Religious Affairs Minister Datuk Seri Dr Zulkifli Mohamad al-Bakri tested positive for Covid-19 on Monday.

On Oct 3, he attended a special National Security Council (NSC) meeting chaired by Prime Minister (PM) Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin. Other attendees included Senior Minister (Security Cluster) Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob, Senior Works Minister Datuk Seri Fadillah Yusof, Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr Adham Baba and Health DG Tan Sri Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah, among others.

Twitter user Rohan Javet Beg said such a cluster was not unexpected, adding that this was the inevitable result of the ruling class blatantly flouting standard operating procedures (SOPs) and assuming that a pandemic would be as selective as the law.

“Indifference triggered this wave. The tragedy is that the people still have to bear the cost,” he wrote.

Another Twitter user, Syefri Zulkefli, tweeted: “Look like #KlusterMenteri is becoming a real thing.”

Galen Centre for Health and Social Policy CEO Azrul Mohd Khalib tweeted that if there are positive cases that are traced back to Zulkifli, based on his public engagements, the number of cases could potentially dwarf the Sivagangga Cluster.

He said the minister could potentially be a super spreader as he had visited several places after returning from Sabah. Additionally, in his tweet, Azrul pointed out that the country is currently facing a crisis of confidence.

“Not in its people or the response to the #COVID19 outbreak is worrying. It is in our leaders and politicians that people are losing faith, confidence and trust,” he noted.

On Oct 5, Dr Noor Hisham said all attendees of the NSC meeting had undergone health screenings and Covid-19 swab tests.

He confirmed yesterday that a total of 90 individuals were screened, including all those who attended the meeting, and were found to be negative Covid-19.

He said, so far, the district health office is involved in the process of identifying close contacts and conducting risk assessment and screening.

“They were all found negative, including all members of the meeting who attended the meeting at the PM’s Department on Oct 3.

“The district health office will continue the process of identifying other contacts,” he said at his Covid-19 press conference, adding that Zulkifli was in a stable condition as of noon yesterday.

Dr Noor Hisham, who is now under home quarantine, held the media briefing live via the Ministry of Health’s (MoH) Facebook from his home.

In a separate Facebook post, he called on all Malaysians to stand united in the face of the recent spike in Covid-19 transmissions in the country.

“Where do we want to be? We need to decide either to come together, be united and be stronger to fight the common enemy or continue to cry over the spilled milk over and over again when the numbers are increasing. Our frontliners are already on the ground with their sweat and tears,” he wrote.

In another post, Dr Noor Hisham noted that as the country enters its 10th month since the first Covid-19 case was registered, controlling large-scale community transmission is the country’s top priority.

“We need strong solidarity and unity, together we can better fight against this common enemy.”

The MoH has issued multiple statements urging Malaysians not to spread fake news related to Covid-19, as well as the SOPs of the Movement Control Order (MCO).

Yesterday, Malaysia broke its record again with 691 new Covid-19 cases, involving 688 local transmissions and three imported cases.

More than half of the new cases (394) yesterday were attributed to the Tembok Cluster involving a prison in Kedah, while 219 came from red zones in Sabah.

There were four new deaths, in which three were in Sabah and the other in Penang, bringing the country’s overall death tally to 141. The increase in new cases yesterday brought the country’s overall total to 13,504.

There are now 2,936 active Covid-19 cases that are being treated at health facilities nationwide, with 31 placed in the intensive care unit and eight of them requiring respiratory aid.

Eighty-seven patients were discharged yesterday, increasing the total recovered cases in the country to 10,427 or 77.2%.

The MoH also identified two new Covid-19 clusters yesterday in Perak and Sabah.

The new cluster in Perak — the Batu Cluster — was detected in Taiping during a screening of a detention camp’s personnel, while the Ramai-Ramai Cluster in Sabah was detected in Sandakan. The index case is a bus driver who experienced symptoms on Sept 27 and tested positive on Oct 3.

Dr Noor Hisham said when combined, the two clusters account for 27 of the 691 new cases reported nationwide yesterday.