It was recently reported that ministers returning from official duties abroad are exempted from Section 15 of the Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases Act 1988.
Under a federal gazette known as the Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases (Exemption) Order 2021, which was signed by Health Minister Dr Adham Baba, and which comes into force from 9 February 2021 until 1 August 2021, ministers who return from any overseas official visit shall undergo observation for three days, or undergo surveillance until he or she is discharged without danger to the public.
It is a well-known fact that the incubation period of the Covid-19 virus can last up to 14 days, although most symptoms are detected within the first week of quarantine. During this period, infected persons can be contagious and can still pose a threat to public health and safety.
Under the current laws, Malaysia enforces a 10-day mandatory quarantine requirement for those who travel by flight, both domestically and internationally.
The Malaysian Bar urges the Ministry of Health to reconsider this order that clearly sets a different standard for ministers. The public is entitled to know the rationale or scientific explanation for such an exemption, since members of the public are required to adhere strictly to the mandatory quarantine requirements and standard operating procedures during the pandemic.
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The government gazette violates one’s constitutional right of equality under the law. Article 8(1) of the Federal Constitution stipulates that “all persons are equal before the law and are entitled to equal protection of the law”. The rule of law demands equality for all citizens, and all of us must abide by the same set of laws.
Ministers should therefore demonstrate exemplary behaviour, especially since the number of Covid cases has been rising steeply in the past few weeks. The virus does not see the difference between ordinary citizens and ministers, and as a country, we must be united in the battle against the pandemic.
There is no room for special treatment if we want our lives to return to normal.
Salim Bashir is president of the Malaysian Bar
This piece is reproduced from here and has been edited for style only