Quarantine exemption for ministers not without valid reasons, says Abdul Karim

Datuk Abdul Karim Rahman Hamzah

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By Peter Sibon

KUCHING, Feb 10: There must be valid reasons for the federal government to allow ministers to undergo just three days of observation after returning from official trips abroad instead of serving the mandatory 10-day quarantine for Covid-19 prevention, said Parti Pesaka Bumiputera Bersatu (PBB) vice-president Datuk Abdul Karim Rahman Hamzah.

One of the reasons, said Abdul Karim, was for ease of administrating the country.

“Sometimes, everybody in Malaysia seems to be… so petty. Anything they will politicise. There must be reasons why they are doing such a thing. I believe the government has to be careful not to allow this pandemic to come in with those who come back from overseas trips, including ministers.

“That’s why there are SOPs (standard operating procedures) in place,” Abdul Karim told a press conference after launching the Sarawak Museum Journal and Sarawak Museums App at a hotel here today.

However, Abdul Karim said, ministers have to undergo quarantine for 10 days every time they return from abroad, then it would be difficult for them to administer the country.

“How are you going to work? So that’s why probably there might be some more stringent requirements even if they are given 3-5 days exemption; they must be swabbed (for Covid-19) before they come in,” he said

At the same time, Abdul Karim hoped that there would be no double standard between procedures for ministers and laypersons.

“How the three days (procedure) arise, I’m not sure. To be fair there must be uniformity among the people,” he reiterated.

Abdul Karim, who is also the Minister of Tourism, Arts and Culture was commenting on Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr Adham Baba who on Feb 8 had issued an order exempting ministers returning after official trips abroad from serving the mandatory 10-day quarantine for Covid-19 prevention.

However, yesterday, the federal government released the standard operating procedures (SOPs) for official ministerial visits abroad, amidst continued backlash over the earlier exemption order.

The Health Ministry shared the SOPs via its official Facebook page and said these were sourced from Wisma Putra, the metonym for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The SOPs stipulated that travel must be for official business and schedules must be short, with only a small delegation of those who have not had close contact with Covid-19 patients and have tested negative two days prior to the travel date allowed to accompany the ministers.

The SOPs further required that ministers use private government aircraft to travel, not commercial aircraft, to create a “travel bubble”.

Upon arrival at the destination airport, ministers must again be tested for Covid-19, with only those testing negative allowed to continue onwards to their accommodations.

Ministers will also not be allowed to move around once arriving at their destination country and must be confined to their rooms unless for official reasons.

Ministers must also wear masks at all times outside of their accommodation, as well as refrain from any form of physical contact throughout their visit.

Yesterday, Health Ministry director-general Tan Sri Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah said that only ministers who take private flights and not make any public appearances will be allowed to undergo observation for three days as stipulated by the new order.

He said those using regular commercial flights will have to undergo quarantine like everyone else.

“They will have to adhere to the procedures and only then approval is given.

“Before leaving, they (ministers) will have to present it to the Cabinet,” he said on the new rule that allows ministers to bypass the 10-day quarantine.

Dr Noor Hisham added that once ministers are given the green light, the Health Ministry will look at the SOPs and review their travel itinerary. — DayakDaily