Five days ago (March 23), Senior Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob confirmed the public’s suspicion – the police was still tracking down about 3,800 members who attended a “Tabligh” religious gathering that had taken place at a Sri Petaling mosque – Masjid Jamek – in Kuala Lumpur from February 28 and March 1. The rally was attended by 16,000 people, including 14,500 Malaysians.
Ismail Sabri, who is also the Defense Minister, revealed that the police had a list of the names of all the tabligh members, including 1,500 foreigners. He said – “These 3,800 tabligh members are not only Malaysians but also Rohingyas and illegal immigrants. They (illegal immigrants) do not have to fear coming to hospitals for the health screening even if they do not have travel documents.”
At the same time, the infamous “turtle egg” Ismail Sabri advised the Tabligh members to come forward before the police knock on their doors. Exactly why the police, who has been happily arresting hundreds of defaulters of MCO (movement control order), but has its reservation about apprehending the 3,800 religious members who stubbornly refuse to be tested for Covid-19, is beyond comprehension.
If it’s true that the police already have in their possession of all the names of the members, why is it so hard to track them? How long does the Royal Malaysia Police plan to drag its feet before the outbreak gets out of control? It’s almost a month since the religious gathering ended on March 1 and the death toll has reached 27 with 2,320 confirmed Coronavirus cases.
Wait a minute. Something is not right with the numbers. After Senior Minister Ismail exposed that the authorities were tracking the 3,800 tabligh members, Inspector-General of Police Abdul Hamid Bador quickly said on March 25 (two days later) that his boys had tracked down most of those who attended the event, and 95% had come forward for the virus tests and screening.
The calculator says 95% of 16,000 equals to 15,200, meaning only 800 members probably had escaped and were on the loose. That was indeed fantastic news. Within 2 days, the police had supposedly brought down from 3,800 to 800 the number of participants who had yet to be tested for the deadly and highly contagious virus.
However, three days later (March 28), the Health Director-General Dr. Noor Hisham Abdullah dropped a bombshell. The Health Ministry is still looking – even begging – for a whopping 5,084 people who were previously screened and found without Covid-19 symptoms to come forward for tests. Apparently, the huge group of people includes both attendees and close contacts of the tabligh attendees.
What on Earth is happening here? First, the defense minister said the authorities were tracking 3,800 people, only for the police to blow the trumpet that 95% of 16,000 had been tracked and tested, hence leaving only 800 to be screened, and now the number has suddenly exploded to 5,084 of tabligh participants and family members who have yet to be tested?
At a press conference, the Health Director-General said samples have been taken from some 12,500 attendees, with 1,207 testing positive and 6,648 testing negative, while the results of 4,645 others are still pending. Adding that the health ministry was working closely with police to track them down, he said – “We need to find 5,084 who have not been tested. We hope we can test them in time.”
Now, if you add up the 12,500 samples from the tabligh participants and the 5,084 attendees whose samples have yet to be tested, the number is 17,584 – more than the 16,000 members who attended the event at the Masjid Jamek mosque in Sri Petaling. Does this mean the extra 1,584 people were family members or close friends who could potentially have been infected?
But Senior Minister Ismail Sabri said 3,800 tabligh members had yet to be tracked while the top police chief said only 800 had yet to be brought to the chamber of testing. Now based on the 12,500 tested and 5,084 untested samples, Dr. Noor Hisham appeared to suggest that all of them (17,584) have already shown up. So, whose story is to be trusted?
Dr. Noor Hisham said the ministry previously screened 17,584 people who either attended the Tabligh event or were close contacts of those who did. He didn’t reveal the actual number of people infected as a result of their close encounters with the carriers. To make matters worse, the Health Ministry revealed that it has detected five “generations” of positive Covid-19 cases that were linked to the gathering.
During a press conference on Thursday (March 26), Dr. Noor Hisham said – “If we look at the tabligh cluster, there are 711 index cases and these index cases spread to their families, which are the first generation. Their family members infect their neighbours, and these neighbours infect their friends. We have seen five generations of infections. Every person who infects another individual … there are 5 generations.”
In the same breath, the 17,584 people screened does not necessarily mean all the 16,000 Tabligh participants have been accounted for. Based on the information from the Health Ministry, only 12,000 people were the tabligh attendees. The remaining 5,084 untested samples could consist of mostly 5 generations of family members, friends or neighbours who might be infected.
What this means is until the Health Director-General discloses the numbers of tabligh participants making up the group of 5,084 people, it’s safe to presume there’re still hundreds – or even thousands – of the religious members who have not come forward to be tested for Coronavirus – depending on the validity of Defense Minister Ismail Sabri or IGP Hamid Bador’s version of the stories.
But why do we even care how many tabligh members who are left to be tested? That’s because the Islamic fasting month of Ramadan, expected to begin on April 23, would become a fertile month for the Coronavirus to spread again if all the 16,000 Tabligh members and the 5 generations of infections are not identified, tested and quarantined.
Complicating matters, there were cases where the carriers who showed mild or even zero symptoms of Covid-19. Even if 95% of the Tabligh members have surrendered to be tested, the remaining 800 of the ignorant members who thought they didn’t carry the virus could do a massive damage if they belong to this group of carriers who exhibit non-specific symptoms (fever, sore throat, cough, and diarrhea).
Perhaps the government should just offer a reward of RM100 for every participant who had yet to step forward to be tested. After all, Cash is King in the current economic uncertainty. Still, the Health Ministry has yet to clarify why the 5,084 tabligh members and their close friends and family members were “previously screened” but allowed to go home without properly tested for Covid-19.