Covid-19: Penang exco expresses frustration with Health Ministry over ignored suggestions

10 Aug 2020 / 17:35 H.

GEORGE TOWN: As the authorities try to contain the spread of infections from the Sivagangga Covid cluster, the Penang executive councillor in charge of public health has expressed frustration with the Health Ministry for not acting on her suggestion earlier.

Dr Norlela Ariffin had asked for overseas returnees to be subjected to centralised quarantine instead of self-isolation. However, the ministry had only reverted to enforced centralised quarantine on July 24.

Heath Director-Gereral Datuk Seri Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah yesterday said 4,636 people linked to the Sivagangga cluster had been screened, with 45 testing positive, 4,105 negative and 486 still awaiting test results.

“The screenings were conducted in three states – Kedah (4,078), Perlis (390) and Penang (168). Screening of close contacts and active case detection are continuing,” he said.

The Sivagangga cluster is said to involve a new strain of the coronavirus, dubbed the “super spreader”.

Norlela pointed out that the reintroduction of centralised quarantine came a little too late. She said an infected doctor from Sungai Bakap was among one of the three latest cases detected yesterday.

The three cases are believed to be linked either to the Sivagangga cluster from Napoh in Jitra, or connected to a nurse in Ipoh.

Norlela Ariffin said she had urged health authorities in Putrajaya to reintroduce centralise quarantine, saying the public became complacent when the state enjoyed green zone status for a long period.

“I am afraid we may be too late to contain it. We hope to determine the extent of the spread of this new infection strain when we have conducted contact tracing.”

She lamented that patients under investigation have also become complacent. One of them was arrested by police on Saturday for breaking quarantine to attend an event at the Penang International Conference and Exhibition Centre.

Norlela said she would meet state health authorities to discuss reintroducing roadblocks and banning inter-state travel.

Chief Minister Chow Kon Yeow said more than 100 people in Penang have been called up through a contact tracing app to undergo tests.

Most were tested negative while others are still waiting for their results.

“At the moment, contact tracing is very important and those who are suspected (to be infected) have to undergo testing, isolation and treatment,” he told a press conference yesterday.

Meanwhile, Kedah executive councillor in charge of health, Datuk Dr Mohd Hayati Othman, said the state will go all-out to prevent the virus from reaching major economic centres such as Alor Star and Langkawi.

He urged transport providers to strictly adopt new normal measures such as constant hand-washing, social distancing and wearing of face masks.

“If we are vigilant on the transport routes, we can stop the virus from spreading. Our ferry, bus, ride-hailing and taxi service operators must be alert.”

In Perlis, schools were closed in Kuala Sanglang, which borders Kedah. A targeted enhanced movement control order has been imposed on the village there and in the adjoining Kampung Tanah Timbul.

About 30,000 villagers have been told to stay home, with roadblocks set up while only one member of each household is allowed out to purchase food and other essentials.

A similar movement restriction order has also imposed at four localities in Kedah, near Napoh.

The Sivagangga cluster, which is reportedly the fastest spreader of Covid-19 in the country, was sparked by a nasi kandar restaurant owner from India.

The 57-year-old broke home quarantine and visited his shop in Napoh, which is a popular dining spot near Bukit Kayu Hitam, the main Malaysia-Thai land border crossing town. He was fined RM1,000.

Within two weeks, 43 cases had been linked to him, erasing the northern region’s status as a green zone, which Penang had enjoyed for up to 91 days.

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