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A doctor’s plea: National Security Council, get your act together

Dr Jeyakumar Devaraj - Photograph: The Malaysian Insight

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Consult the professionals at the Ministry of Health before making any rash decisions, urges Jeyakumar Devaraj.

The coronavirus situation in our country is at a critical stage.

The mass religious gatherings involving thousands of devotees in Sri Petaling and in Batu Ferringhi should not have taken place at this time. A huge spike of cases has already begun emanating from the former event.

Given this, the two-week movement control order announced by the prime minister on Monday, 16 March was quite timely and entirely appropriate.

We need to cut transmissions, identify and treat those infected and quarantine the contacts. These measures will help contain the epidemic.

Wuhan limited the total number infected to about 80,000 which is less than 0.14% of Wuhan’s 60 million population. This despite the fact that when the epidemic started, they had no clue what was going on.

We, being forewarned, should be able to do better than that, and until the Sri Petaling event were doing very well by global standards.

So the movement control order is appropriate. However several of the measures implemented by the National Security Council (NSC) yesterday undermined the purpose of the order.

The inspector general of police made a televised statement on the evening of 17 March that all interstate travel from the next day would require a certificate from the police. That led to masses of people crowding at various police stations in several cities trying to acquire these certificates.

The point of the movement control order is to reduce the amount of inter-mingling of the population. The way the police handled it shows that they were “blur” about the main aim of the order and that they had not thought through the whole process.

The advice to students of tertiary institutions to vacate their campuses was another unnecessary misstep. The whole point of the movement restriction order is to get people to stay put and not go out and mix with others, some of whom might be infected though not yet symptomatic.

Pushing half a million students out of hostels resulted in crowds in bus and train terminals and a lot of mingling. The epidemic is now centred in the Klang Valley. But the enforced dispersal of varsity students to their home towns is likely to take the epidemic to all parts of the country.

Suspension of classes was necessary to prevent transmission. But students should have been advised to stay put in their dorms, and measures should have been taken to ensure their meals were taken care of. We cannot afford mistakes of this magnitude at this point in the epidemic.

The failure of the NSC to invite five state governments to its meeting is another huge disappointment for the Rakyat (people).

We are facing a serious epidemic that has overwhelmed the healthcare systems of several other countries. We are racing against time to contain the epidemic in Malaysia.

This is no time for petty politicking! We all need to work together. The Rakyat are prepared to follow your leadership. The NSC needs to bring the nation together by handling all issues in a mature, rational and well-informed manner.

The prime minister said that the NSC is overseeing the entire coronavirus containment exercise. We appreciate the fact that the PM himself is chairing the NSC.

Our advice to the NSC is to consult the health professionals before making any major decisions. Discuss the measures being considered with a technical committee comprising epidemiologists, public health specialists and sociologists in the Ministry of Health before announcing them.

Anti-epidemic measures cannot be carried out by trial and error – for each error will promote the transmission of the infection to more people, and that will cost us dearly as a society.

So please, NSC, get your act together, and consult before making any more rash decisions.

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