Penang doctor challenges ‘stay at home’ directive after told not to jog outdoors

Dr Ong Hean Teik confronted by council officers while taking a walk at Taman Belia in George Town, as seen in a video shared online.

PETALING JAYA: A Penang-based doctor challenged the authorities’ understanding of the movement control order (MCO) after he was told by municipal officers to go home while walking at a park in George Town.

Consultant cardiologist Dr Ong Hean Teik argued that the MCO, which took effect on Wednesday to prevent the spread of the Covid-19 virus, is not a curfew but rather aimed at preventing crowding and ensuring social distancing.

“Incorrect understanding and misinterpretation of the order can lead to undesirable outcomes and increase the chances of Covid-19 spread,” he wrote to FMT today.

Yesterday, health director-general Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah urged the public not to go outdoors to jog or exercise.

He told FMT that people should stay at home as much as possible throughout the MCO period, which ends on March 31.

Municipal councils nationwide have begun implementing the MCO, including by ordering the closure of parks and public places.

The Subang Jaya Municipal Council said flouting the order could see offenders fined up to RM2,000 or handed a prison sentence of not less than a year.

In a video making the rounds on social media, Ong is seen arguing with three officers of the Penang City Council in Taman Belia.

Ong insists that the MCO is not designed to force people indoors.

He also cites several academic research works showing that the Covid-19 virus “thrives best in cool and dry atmospheres as found in temperate lands or an air-conditioned room”.

“Hot, high humidity climates as found outdoors in Malaysia is the environment that best kills the virus. We do not want people to be crowded together, but confining people inside the house, perhaps with the air conditioning on, cannot be healthy,” he said, adding that organisations could be acting illegally in restricting people’s movements.

“To reduce Covid-19 transmission, we must have social distancing, obey the MCO but behave intelligently so as not to make life so stressful and sedentary that resistance drops and virus transmission increases,” said Ong.

FMT is trying to get a response from the health ministry.