We’ve been transparent about coronavirus since Day 1, says health minister

Health Minister Dzulkefly Ahmad says it will be wrong for them to withhold any important information from the public. (Bernama pic)

PUTRAJAYA: Health Minister Dzulkefly Ahmad today said his ministry is being as transparent as possible in releasing information about the coronavirus outbreak to the public.

Since its first confirmed cases on Jan 25, Malaysia – as with the rest of the region – has seen a spike in positive cases of the 2019-nCoVcoronavirus.

A 41-year-old man from Selangor was yesterday confirmed as the first Malaysian infected by the virus after a Jan 16-23 trip to Singapore to attend an international conference. He was the 10th confirmed case suffering from the virus in Malaysia.

Upon his return, the patient was treated at a private health facility for fever and cough on Jan 29. He was referred to the Sungai Buloh Hospital on Feb 2 and he was confirmed positive for the coronavirus yesterday.

This has led to questions about his whereabouts – and whether he may have infected anyone – after his return from Singapore, especially since eight of the nine Chinese nationals who are confirmed coronavirus cases in Malaysia entered the country via the Johor-Singapore border.

While Singapore’s health ministry’s website provides information such as the hospitals, hotels and streets frequented by coronavirus sufferers prior to being admitted, Malaysia has not been as forthcoming with such details.

Chan Chee Khoon, an epidemiologist and critic of health policies, previously told FMT that the Malaysian government had to justify concealing information on the places the Selangor man recently visited as this could help the public to decide for themselves whether to visit these areas or not.

When asked whether Malaysians had a right to such information as well, Dzulkefly said that the ministry’s decision to reveal such information depended on their importance and how it will impact the public.

“If there is information we feel we need to release, of course, we will not withhold it,” said Dzulkefly during the ministry’s daily coronavirus briefing here.

“It would be wrong for us to withhold such information. But if it is just some information that the public wants to know but we don’t think is necessary to release, we will withhold it.

“But I tell you, I for one, and my deputy, have been transparent since the first day.

“And rest assured, we will continue operating with that kind of procedure and ethics,” he added.

Dzulkefly said the ministry knows “exactly” the whereabouts and movements of the Selangor patient prior to him being admitted at the Sungai Buloh Hospital, thanks to its “thorough” contact tracing.

The contact tracing, which is still ongoing, has tracked 74 people who were in close contact with him since he returned to Malaysia – 33 of whom were healthcare workers.

Out of the 74 people, a total of 35 have been put under house surveillance and are being monitored by the ministry’s staff.

Samples taken from 26 of these 35 people have tested negative while results for nine others are still pending.