Identify visitors at villages for Covid-19 tests, urges Sarawak Suhakam

Sarawak Suhakam commissioner Madeline Berma prays the Covid-19 virus does not spread to longhouses as the residents are a close-knit community, sharing amenities. (Bernama pic)

KUCHING: Sarawak Human Rights Commissioner Madeline Berma has urged the state government to collaborate with the village security and development committee (JKKK) or village heads to identify those who had returned to their villages before the school holidays.

“The state government should send medical teams to these villages and perform screening among the villagers there. You can’t expect them to go to the hospital in town for Covid-19 screening or tests,” she told FMT.

She warned the virus could spread very fast since the majority of the Dayaks in the rural areas lived in a close-knit community in longhouses and shared common amenities.

“There’s no containment in the interior and who is there to check? Access to information is also limited. I believe they might not even be aware of social distancing,” she said.

According to her, the rural clinics had limited facilities and staff were also not equipped with any personal protective equipment (PPE).

“I don’t think they have it. I don’t think these rural clinics are prepared for Covid-19 in the event the virus spreads to the rural communities. Even communication is limited.”

State disaster management chairman Douglas Uggah Embas had urged the people not to return to their villages so that districts classified as green zones will remain free from the virus.

He also said only those with permits from the district office and police, and with valid reasons, were allowed to travel between districts.

Madeline Berma.

Berma was concerned that people had returned to their villages for the school holidays on March 13. The state government’s ban on inter-district travel was only imposed on March 29.

She said although there had yet to be reports about the spread of the virus among the rural communities, those who returned to their respective villages could be carriers of the virus.

It was reported that the National Security Council had classified Kuching as a red zone with 118 positive cases reported so far.

Kota Samarahan, Simunjan, Serian, Sri Aman, Betong, Sarikei, Sibu, Mukah, Matu, Bintulu, Miri, Limbang and Lawas have been classified as orange zones, with only one to 20 positive cases reported in each of the districts.

There have been no positive cases in Bau, Lundu, Asajaya, Saratok, Pusa, Kabong, Maradong, Julau, Pakan, Kanowit, Selangau, Tatau, Sebauh, Dalat, Daro, Tanjung Manis, Marudi, Subis, Beluru, Telang Usan, Kapit, Belaga, Song, Bukit Mabong, Lubok Antu and Tebedu, which have been classified as green zones.

Berma said rural health centres, in Sabah and Sarawak, were far from residents.

“The accessibility of quality healthcare for rural citizens is already a challenge, not to mention the poor condition of the roads.”

She said based on the latest data from the Department of Statistics, Sabah and Sarawak had the highest percentage of living quarters located more than 9km from the nearest public or private health centres.

In Sarawak, she said 22.8% of living quarters were located more than 9km from the nearest public health centres, followed by Sabah at 15%.

She also said 37.8% of living quarters in Sarawak were located more than 9km from the nearest private health centres, followed by Labuan at 27.5% and Sabah at 25.4%.