Ministers’ 3-day quarantine widens trust deficit


THE gazetted Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases (Exemption) Order 2021, which has excused Cabinet ministers from undergoing a 10-day mandatory quarantine period upon arrival from official overseas trip, is a blatant double standard that would widen the people’s trust deficit for the government.

Malaysian Public Health Physicians Association president Datuk Dr Zainal Ariffin Omar said the exemption is seen as a mixed message from the government to the people and will also increase negative perceptions towards the Ministry of Health (MoH).

He said returnees from overseas have increased risk because of the pandemic status and risk of contracting the mutated or new variants of Covid-19.

“So, we don’t see any technical and scientific rationale for the exemption.

“Additionally, this exemption is for highly mobile personnel with active interactions with the community. We hope the government will be more cautious in implementing this because of the risk of transmission to the community,” Dr Zainal Ariffin told The Malaysian Reserve (TMR).

Medical experts also said Putrajaya’s decision to exempt Cabinet ministers from undergoing the 10-day mandatory quarantine is unjustified. Health practitioners added that the ministers should follow the same standard operating procedures (SOPs) to fight the Covid-19 spread.

The gazette, which took effect yesterday (Feb 9) until Aug 1, only requires the minister to undergo three days of observation or surveillance before they are discharged with a clean bill of health.

This is in contrast with the latest SOPs from the World Health Organisation that recommend a 10-day quarantine, which is in sync with the Covid-19 incubation and transmissible periods, as well as the predictive value of positive or negative result of the coronavirus test.

The same SOPs have long been adopted by the MoH.

The announcement was not without its backlash, with netizens expressing their disappointment on various social media platforms.

Some quarters even demanded the resignation of Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr Adham Baba, as the person who signed the gazette. The hashtag #AdhamBabaLetakJawatan and #AdhamBabaOUT became the most trending hashtags on Twitter in Malaysia yesterday, surpassing 136,000 tweets.

Echoing Dr Zainal Ariffin’s view was former deputy Health DG Datuk Dr Lokman Hakim Sulaiman who said the people have every reason to address their frustration on social media as the decision said much of about their wellbeing and equal rights.

“Quite a bit have been commented on social media already. You cannot have double standards in any rules and regulations. That’s it.

“If you think you can rationalise the move on behalf of the VIPs, the same can apply to the general public. After all, we are human beings,” Dr Lokman Hakim told TMR.

The Malaysian Health Coalition in a statement yesterday requested the order be revoked, as the justification provided by the health minister does not sufficiently explain the rationale, science, evidence or facts behind this decision.

“Therefore, we can only take it at face value, and we oppose this Order in the strongest possible way.

“The Exemption Order institutionalised double standards that undermine the national effort to curb Covid-19. Double standards that are not based on science or evidence erode public trust in the SOPs,” MHC said.

The coalition said the move will only worsen the trust deficit between the people and politicians, and stressed that health professionals cannot fight Covid-19 without the public’s trust and confidence in the system.

“We urge that this Exemption Order be immediately revoked.”

The Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) said the exceptions given to ministers are not only dangerous, but also violate the society’s rights.

Suhakam commissioner Jerald Joseph told TMR that the quarantine law should be applicable fairly as the virus does not recognise the status or urgency of work that the ministers have.

“While we understand that ministers may be busy and have tight schedules, the medical reasoning is not there to justify the exemption. It must be noted that the prime minister himself has promoted the work from home concept.

“This has been the new norm for the people, as well as the government and ministers who have managed this country via online platforms. So, we should still follow the same demand and ruling.

“Furthermore, we do not want to have ministers’ clusters affecting the people’s health,” said Jerald.

Some politicians and religious scholars also shared their critical views on social media yesterday.

DAP veteran Lim Kit Siang’s political secretary Syahredzan Johan said it is not fair to blame Dr Adham as the decision to gazette the law is a collective responsibility of the Cabinet.

Meanwhile, Perlis Mufti Datuk Dr Mohd Asri Zainul Abidin mused on the difference between his biological make-up and those who have been given the privilege to skip the quarantine process.

He said he should also be allowed to go overseas and only go through a three-day observation.

Read our previous report here

Health Ministry’s new quarantine rule riles online users