Barking up the wrong tree on quarantine centres in Sabah

I would like to respond to your article. First, I wish to emphasise that I share similar concerns with Dr Pamela Yong regarding the health quarantine centres in Sabah, particularly that at the badminton hall of the Likas sports complex, as raised by Yong.

Numerous complaints have been made on social media by returning students who were imposed mandatory quarantine by the health authorities. I agree with Yong that the authorities need to take heed of the conditions at these quarantine centres and make swift improvements.

However, I cannot agree with the other parts of her statement, especially where she said that these students returning to Sabah had been “greeted by such poorly coordinated and ill-thought out quarantine facilities provided by the state authorities as their welcome home ‘gift’”.

It is true that the quarantine centre at the Likas sports complex had been suggested and set up by the Sabah government. Chief Minister Shafie Apdal, in an answer in the state assembly on April 20, had said the modifications at the complex were meant “as a branch” for Queen Elizabeth Hospital to cater to 172 patients.

It was entirely up to the hospital what it had wanted to do with it, be it as a ward for non-Covid-19 patients or as a quarantine centre for Covid-19 suspects, or even as a ward for positive cases.

However, the decision whether to use it as a quarantine centre or not ultimately lay with the federal government, and not the state government.

I believe there was no suggestion from Yong for the centre to be closed down totally. She had merely raised matters of coordination and minute details that needed refining, and not that the badminton hall itself was entirely unsuitable as a quarantine centre in the first place.

Yong, as deputy chairman of MCA-linked Institute of Strategic Analysis and Policy Research (INSAP), should have done her research before shooting at the Sabah authorities. She should have been aware that all quarantine centres in Malaysia, including those in Sabah, have been gazetted and manpower provided for by the federal authorities, and not the state authorities, as she alleged.

Even the cost for such quarantine centres is borne by the federal government, pursuant to the announcement by senior minister for security Ismail Sabri Yaakob that the federal government will subsidise up to RM150 for each person quarantined mandatorily at gazetted facilities.

The main federal authority in charge of Covid-19 management and issuance of the movement control order (MCO) is the health ministry. Even the Sabah Health Department (JKNS) is a federal agency, with its director, Dr Christina Rundi, being a federal civil servant.

So now, the question is, shouldn’t Yong be censuring the federal authorities and not the state authorities?

Yong, a central committee member of MCA, ought to have censured the health minister from her own fellow Perikatan Nasional partner Umno instead of barking up the wrong tree. If she had done so, perhaps MCA might have been able to pressure Umno to return to MCA the health minister’s position which the party had traditionally held since independence, but currently lost to Umno.

Not only that, Yong had made an unwarranted ad hominem attack against Chan Foong Hin, the Kota Kinabalu MP, and claimed that he had been preoccupied with “distributing packs of coffee and tea to affluent homes”.

No doubt the distribution did take place, but it was done in a one-off manner with the good intention of promoting local products such as Tenom Coffee and Sabah Tea among the affluent and also to assist the producers clear their additional stockpile as a result of the drop in business due to the MCO.

Probably, Yong has no intention whatsoever to help promote local Sabah products or help local entrepreneurs sell their goods, but there is no need to deride the MP’s deeds.

Furthermore, she had suggested that Chan drop by the Likas sports complex quarantine centre. To suggest that Chan visit the centre at this time was rather haphazardous of her, especially when he had just returned from the May 18 parliament sitting and is under voluntary self-quarantine.

In any event, Chan had visited the centre when it was first launched on April 22. He had duly discharged his responsibility as an elected representative, unlike what Yong would seem to suggest.

If Yong is not aware of it, Chan had as early as April 2 slammed the federal government for the poor condition in a quarantine centre and received up to 1,200 comments on his Facebook post.

Finally, Yong should have avoided making unnecessary statements as her words could have hurt and discouraged healthcare workers in Sabah who have been working hard in setting up quarantine centres and doing their best to curb the spread of Covid-19.

John Wong Yu Ling is a parliamentary researcher in the office of Kota Kinabalu MP Chan Foong Hin.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.

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