Malaysians owe a debt of gratitude to former health minister Dzulkefly Ahmad for his leadership at the ministry. He left a solid foundation and management team to tackle the Covid-19 outbreak. His team are professionals and, in his absence, will continue his good work.
In January, the ministry issued guidelines to prevent the disease from spreading. Malaysians were urged to avoid crowded places and stay away from people who showed symptoms of infection.
It is possible that many among the participants in a Muslim tabligh (missionary) gathering held at a mosque in Sri Petaling from Feb 27 to March 1 may have been exposed to Covid-19.
On Monday, a participant from Brunei fell ill with Covid-19, and the following day, his colleagues contracted Covid-19. Both had attended the KL event.
The health ministry is tracking 14,500 Malaysians who attended the event, but the question remains: why did the ministry in charge of religious affairs not urge mosques to postpone such gatherings?
When the new minister in charge of religious affairs, the former Federal Territory mufti Zulkifli Mohamad, said there was no need to ban Friday prayers, many Malaysians were puzzled.
His suggestion to “shorten the length of the sermons” implies that he is not aware of the gravity of the problem.
The Islamic authority of Singapore had ordered the suspension of Friday prayers until the mosques had been disinfected. These mosques were visited by the participants of the KL event. The authorities are also attempting to trace these men.
Even the Vatican has heeded the advice of the medical experts, and last Sunday, the Pope beamed his Sunday mass on the internet, to protect his congregation.
At the same time, the Catholic Church has urged its churches to stop giving communion and to stop using holy water in services amid fears of spreading the disease.
When a church in Puchong confirmed that two of its members had tested positive for Covid-19 after the first case, the Catholic bishops of Malaysia confirmed that all weekend masses and gatherings have been suspended until March 29.
In Iran, blind allegiance to ritual has reportedly caused several deaths, because people were kissing shrines believing that God would protect them.
Iran has recorded the most number of deaths from Covid-19 outside China, but the religious authorities refused to act on the advice of the health ministry to shut down these sites to stop the spread of infection.
There are reports of individuals who say they are not afraid of the virus, and of young children being encouraged to lick the holy shrines.
Many governments around the world have cancelled sporting events, concerts and festivals. Healthy adults have been told to work from home, if possible.
Some groups, like the elderly, those with long-term illnesses or existing medical conditions such as diabetes or respiratory diseases, and those with a reduced immune system, are at risk.
On Feb 8, the health ministry’s official circular urged individuals to stop skin-to skin contact and not shake hands.
This simple advice has apparently fallen on deaf ears. The photo of the Housing and Local Government Minister Zuraida Kamaruddin shaking hands with her office staff seems alarming. Don’t ministers observe the guidelines which other ministries have issued? Is communication among the ministries as bad as it is alleged?
One does not need official guidelines to try to stop the spread of Covid-19. All one needs is common sense.
The health ministry cannot be accused of being unreceptive to suggestions. When an article in FMT alerted it to the incorrect impression created by a poster, which showed a picture of a dog under the heading of animals spreading the virus, a change was made within a few days. The poster now shows a picture of a bat, which experts claim is a possible origin of the virus.
Another recommendation of the ministry is to wash one’s hands regularly with soap and water and use hand sanitisers.
Will the minister in charge of religious affairs issue a simple directive to allay the fear of some Muslims who wrongly think that they are going against their religion because many sanitising hand gels are alcohol-based?
There are claims that some Muslims have refused to use alcohol-based hand gels. They are concerned because the Quran bans Muslims from consuming alcohol. Sadly, many ignorant Muslims do not know that Islamic teachings encourage Muslims to use alcohol for medicinal purposes.
Ironically, many ignorant Muslims in Iran have died after consuming bootleg alcohol, which contains methanol, in their belief that this will cure them of the Covid-19 virus.
If the number of Covid-19 cases in Malaysia spikes, have we enough hospital beds, hospital staff, equipment and ICU facilities to cope? Do listen to the health ministry to stop the spread of infection. Prevention is better than cure.
The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.