Ex-deputy health minister tells why February tabligh gathering allowed

About 14,000 people, including foreigners, had participated in the tabligh function at the Sri Petaling Mosque, resulting in the largest Covid-19 cluster so far.

PETALING JAYA: Former deputy health minister Dr Lee Boon Chye has hit back at Najib Razak over his Covid-19 remarks, saying the former prime minister “does not understand” the virus or how it has spread here.

This came after Najib took a jab at Dzulkefly Ahmad for telling Health Minister Dr Adham Baba to question Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin on why he allowed the Sri Petaling Mosque tabligh convention to take place from Feb 27 to March 3.

At that time, Muhyiddin was home minister.

Adham had earlier blamed the Pakatan Harapan administration for failing to stop the spread of the virus, particularly the tabligh convention, which has since become the biggest Covid-19 cluster in the country.

Earlier today, Najib responded to Dzulkefly by citing a Feb 12, 2020, news report of Dzulkefly dismissing the need to postpone mass gatherings, although the World Health Organization had recommended it.

Speaking to FMT, Lee said there was a difference between public gatherings among the local community and a conference with people from affected regions.

Former deputy health minister Dr Lee Boon Chye.

“Then, there was no Covid-19 transmissions within the local community. We know because the health ministry was conducting surveillance, so a public gathering among Malaysians was not a problem.”

The spread of the virus, he said, came from delegates from affected countries who came into Malaysia and infected the local community.

“We (health ministry) would not have known there would be participants from foreign countries joining the gathering, otherwise, we would have stopped it.

“But we only found out about the event (and foreign participants) after Brunei recorded its first Covid-19 case,” he said, referring to the Bruneian patient who attended the tabligh gathering.

Lee said if Adham wanted to raise questions on the issue now, he should do so in the Cabinet which Muhyiddin and then foreign minister Saifuddin Abdullah are a part of.

“Why did they allow those from affected countries to come in?”

He added a movement control order (MCO) was not needed when their administration was dealing with the virus as there were no community infections then, and it was easy to trace, isolate and treat imported cases.

Now, with community infections, the MCO was needed.

Lee also said Defence Minister Ismail Sabri was wrong in saying that only those with symptoms should wear face masks.

“When there are community infections, everyone going out in public must wear a mask. You must assume everyone is a potential source of infection,” he said, adding Ismail did not understand the purpose of the MCO.

“How would you know those without symptoms are not harbouring the virus as there are many asymptomatic cases?

“So, you must wear masks,” he said, adding people do not have to wear masks only after community infections have been eradicated.