More questions and confusion over 3-day quarantine debacle

Public and health personnel have questioned and criticised the ‘science’ for the exemption order gazetted by the govt


IF THE ministers could be exempted, the everyday people should also be ordained the same ruling.

That’s the consensus that could be extrapolated from the discussions and debate that have been raging over various media following the exemption order gazetted by the government that allows ministers to escape the 10-day quarantine upon returning from official trips overseas.

The Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases (Exemption) Order 2021 was signed by Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr Adham Baba also stated that the ministers can now request to observe only a minimum three days of self-isolation before getting back to work.

While medical practitioners and associations generally describe the ruling as a double standard that “widens trust deficit” towards the government and that it should be rescinded, the public is left even more confused as there have been too many different sets of quarantine procedures that have been in practice since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic early last year.

Former Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad, who was expressing his concern, asked the government to explain the “science behind the decision”.

In response, Dr Adham told a news portal that the optional relaxation of quarantine duration from 10 days to three days is aimed at “opening up the economy”.

Dr Adham said the ruling would also be extended to business travellers and the public.

Infectious disease expert Datuk Prof Dr Adeeba Kamarulzaman also shot down Dr Adham’s suggestion to extend the three-day quarantine period to the public, as it is as good as reopening the economy which could only be done once the virus is contained.

“I don’t think this is a good idea at all. We might as well have no quarantine at all,” Dr Adeeba said.

Yesterday, the Academy of Medicine Malaysia (AMM) was the latest medical organisation asking the government to revoke the rule.

A statement from AMM said such a move should be put on hold until there is a scientific evidence that suggests differently, especially when there are cases of mutation of Covid-19 virus which were not only reported throughout other nations, but also in Malaysia.

The group of medical specialists also said there are insufficient data on other SARS-CoV-2 mutations that could be referred to develop robust protocols for safe travel.

“The effectiveness of so-called ‘travel bubbles’ is also still in question as new variants of Covid-19 with increased transmission capability spread rapidly around the world.

“We understand there is an urgency to restart the economy for the benefit of Malaysians and businesses that are struggling, but this can only be done by bringing the pandemic under control first,” AAM stated.

The association is also of the opinion that Malaysian borders must not be open to “bubble delegations” as it would risk bringing in new variants that could overwhelm our health system.

For instance, the UK B.1.17 variant that was first detected in the UK is more infectious and has spread rapidly to at least 70 other countries, while there is also another variant of Covid-19 found in Brazil, the E484K.

The public and health personnel have also questioned and criticised the “science” behind the decision.

The majority agrees that such a decree only creates more conflicts and confusion on the Covid-19 virus and what it takes to stop the transmission of the deadly disease.

When the China-originated virus emerged in most nations early 2020, the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) recommendation in confirming clearance of the virus — and thus allowing discharge from isolation — required a patient to have two negative reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction results on sequential samples taken at least 24 hours apart.

WHO then recommended a 14-day quarantine period for Covid-19 patients and its close contacts, as it is estimated that the incubation period for Covid-19 is between two and 14 days.

However, along the line, based on its science in clinical data, WHO published new recommendations which ease the isolation period, which has been adopted by few nations including Malaysia.

On Dec 14, 2020, the country shortened the quarantine period for incoming travellers to 10 days from 14, the decision which was done based on the latest scientific evidence and practices in other countries.

“The monitoring and observation period for travellers from abroad, and close contact tracing management, will be shortened to 10 days instead of 14 days,” Health DG Tan Sri Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah said.

Other countries that also reviewed their mandatory quarantine periods include the UK, Germany and Belgium.

It is, to this day, also a common knowledge that the highest risk of infection is in the first week of exposure.

Prior to that, Health Ministry (MoH) has been conservative in following the 14-day quarantine period, which was applicable to all walks of life.

However, the ministry’s move to “customise” some of its decisions and exemptions — especially those involving Cabinet members — have certainly raised eyebrows.

In January, a number of ministers — among the most mobile groups in the country — were tested positive of Covid-19.

Prior to the new order, Dr Adham earlier said ministers would have to take the Covid-19 swab tests, but they can still be released from the standard quarantine order based on risk assessment done by MoH officials.

In a press conference on Tuesday, Dr Noor Hisham clarified that the approval for the travel bubble will be brought before the Cabinet to be approved.

He assured that the approval will only be granted if the trip meets certain strict criteria.

Among the criteria are the itinerary of the visit must be short and does not involve public places, while the proposed standard operating procedures must be satisfactory.

Additionally, ministers must also use private jets instead of commercial flights, hence have smaller human exposure.

Read our previous report here

Ministers’ 3-day quarantine widens trust deficit