Cramped rented properties contribute to increase Covid-19 cases in Tiong Hua, Sibu Jaya flats

(From clockwise) Ting, Dr Annuar, Lau, Chang and Irene having fruitful discussions on Covid-19 situation in Sibu

By Karen Bong

SIBU, March 4: Overcrowding rented properties, which problem has been neglected for years, could be the attributing factor to the high number of Covid-19 cases in Tiong Hua Zone and Sibu Jaya flats as the living conditions increased the risk of transmitting infectious diseases.

Baffled by statistics of about 70 per cent of positive cases in Tiong Hua Zone, a Chinese-majority house area were Bumiputeras, Assistant Minister for Local Government and Housing Dr Annuar Rapaee learnt that they were actually tenants renting in flats and houses here.

“I was told that there were houses being converted into multiple cubicles or rooms to be rented out.

“So when it comes to infectious diseases, this is actually why an outbreak happened,” he highlighted this during Sibu Municipal Council (SMC) chairman Clarence Ting’s live session on Facebook yesterday (March 3).

The session was also participated by Senator Robert Lau, Bukit Assek assemblywoman Irene Chang and Pelawan assemblyman David Wong.

Dr Annuar, who is also Sibu Division Disaster Management Committee (Sibu DDMC) coordinator, pointed out that Tiong Hua was not the only zone hit by the outbreak but Sibu Jaya flats as well with an estimated 7,000 residents in 1,600 units spread over 20 blocks.

“If you divide the numbers, some units could accommodate like seven people in one unit. I have spoken to Irene (Chang) and mayor (Ting) about this (problem) that we have to turn to regulations on rental of properties.

“We need to find out if they are renting to 10 people for a big house or two people. In other places (countries), regulations were that only a specific number of people can rent based on the number of rooms (in the property),” he added.

Meanwhile Chang stressed that the overcrowding housing issue was not confined to Tiong Hua only but the whole of Bukit Assek.

“One house may have four to five households in there. One household can have 10 persons. So this highlights the shortcomings of our system.

“The local government must do something about this. If not mistaken, there are something (provisions) in the Local Authorities Ordinance that there should not be overcrowding in a particular premises,” she said.

Urging local authorities to go down and see what was happening on the ground, Chang emphasised that this problem had reflected years and years of regulations neglect.

“So now that we are facing a pandemic, the situation spiralled out of control due to this kind of situation (overcrowding housing),” she added.

Senator Lau in concurrence admitted that it took a pandemic to wake up and see the shortfall in the systems as well as the need for long-term planning on housing.

“There are provisions to certify if a property is fit for human habitation and for overcrowding, the public health can come in.

“The issue of Bukit Assek, the slum area has been there and the area has deteriorated since the 80s and for 40 years, we have neglected that area even though it is right behind our door,” he said in explaining how one side was so rundown and the other side was with high rise shophouses.

Lau added that years of inaction on overcrowding was also reflected in Sibu Jaya flats which were built 20 years ago but the planning was wrong and “now we are paying the price of it.”

Mayor Ting thus urged Chang to put in a formal letter to SMC on the overcrowding housing matter while sharing that a report on dilapidated housing was in fact complete and it was only a matter of execution and implementation of plans.

“I was active only for six months (when he became the mayor) then Covid-19 came.

“This public health crisis has indeed highlighted the overcrowding property issue in particular in Bukit Assek areas which required urgent attention from both authorities and state lawmakers. It is a paramount concern for me and council especially,” he added. — DayakDaily