Give detainees at least a face mask, not garbage bag, say medical groups

A picture going around on social media claiming to be taken at one of the courts in Penang.

GEORGE TOWN: Medical groups in the country are shocked that detainees are being brought to courtrooms in close proximity and without proper protection gear at a time when the country is trying to flatten the Covid-19 curve.

The Malaysian Medical Association (MMA) today said it was particularly disturbed over a man being brought to court with a garbage bag over his head in Penang as there were no face masks available.

Yesterday, FMT had reported that a drug suspect, who had come into contact with a Covid-19 positive family member, was brought into a courtroom here with a garbage bag over his head.

Several lawyers also observed that detainees were being handcuffed hand to hand and brought to court and placed in crowded cells. Most of the detainees are those who violated the movement control orders.

Speaking to FMT, MMA president Dr N Ganabaskaran said the authorities must spring into action immediately and have the “garbage bag” detainee tested for the virus.

“This should have been better managed by the authorities. We are deeply concerned to hear of the lack of social distancing observed in some courtrooms as reported, with detainees handcuffed to each other.

“We are in the second stage of the movement control order and therefore social distancing must be observed strictly, even in our courtrooms,” he said.

Those violating the MCO being brought to the Bukit Mertajam Magistrate’s Court on March 31.

Health policy group Galen Centre said the issue has not only put the detainees at risk but also the policemen and prison officials handling them.

The detainees should at least be provided with face masks, not garbage bags. They must be required to practise social distancing even while in court. This is not a matter of opinion or debate.

“It is a real concern. What if a detainee becomes infected and spreads it to fellow detainees because of this?

“The spread of Covid-19 in restricted circumstances, such as detention facilities and remand centres, could quickly overwhelm the available health services,” Galen’s CEO Azrul Mohd Khalib told FMT.

The drug suspect with the garbage bag over his head had apparently come into contact with his uncle who had attended the Sri Petaling tabligh gathering at the end of last month, a lawyer had said in highlighting the lack of social distancing at the courts.

FMT spoke to a few lawyers who had witnessed the man being brought to the courthouse with the bag over his head on March 25.

The man was ordered by the magistrate to stand by the door as he was charged, the lawyers said, so as to maintain a safe distance.