Adham: Ministers’ fast track quarantine only for investment purposes

PETALING JAYA: The decision to create a fast track quarantine process for Cabinet ministers is specifically to address the country’s investment woes, says Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr Adham Baba.

He explains that the exemption order, which will allow for a shortened period of three days of observation for ministers returning from official overseas visits, comes with many conditions and is not as simple as it seems.

At present, Malaysian returnees from overseas are required to observe a 10-day mandatory self-quarantine.

He said that according to the guidelines on the exemption order which would be released soon, ministers visiting abroad would overall spend a total of seven days in isolation upon their return.

Dr Adham, speaking to The Star, said the exemption order only caters to Cabinet ministers needing to go abroad for investment purposes right now due to the necessity to create a “bubble” to allow them to travel.

He said there was an urgent need for such a leeway to bring in investments, as the economy was losing more than RM600mil a day due to the current travel restrictions.

“According to the guidelines on the exemption order, prior to departure from Malaysia, ministers will have to take a swab test and if tested negative, they will be free to travel.“After touchdown, they need to take another swab test and follow the host country’s laws, ” he said.

“Before returning to Malaysia, they will also need to take a swab test and upon a negative result, they have to isolate themselves for three days there.

“Upon touchdown in Malaysia, they will take another swab and if found negative, they will be isolated for another three days for observation, ” he added.

However, Dr Adham said the ministers will not be released from isolation immediately after the three days.

“Only if the health authorities are completely certain that the minister is not a threat to the health of the community, then they will be allowed to be released from isolation“If there is even the slightest indication that they may be a carrier or suffering from symptoms, then they will be placed under further observation until the health authorities are completely satisfied before releasing them, ” he said.

“The itinerary of official visits by ministers will also be monitored strictly before we even allow them to travel.

“It is not easy for ministers to just go anywhere and mix with just anyone during official visits with such a strict itinerary in place. There will be further checks when they return, ” Dr Adham added.

He said the exemption order was made after much discussions with health authorities and the Cabinet, using the powers accorded to him as the Health Minister under Act 342 (Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases Act 1988).

Once the guidelines are put in place and tested, this SOP may be opened to business groups.

“We will start with Cabinet ministers for now, and if we feel that business groups – be they local or foreign – want to fly in or out, we will discuss applying the same method, ” said Dr Adham.

He is of the view that the public backlash on the three-day quarantine is due to a lack of official explanation and presumptions.

Malaysians took to social media to express discontent over the new rule allowing Cabinet ministers returning from official overseas visits to undergo a three-day observation period instead of 10 days, with accusations of double standards.

On Monday, the government issued the new ministerial order that was to be enforced yesterday until Aug 1.

Under the new order published in the government gazette under the Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases Act (Act 342), Cabinet ministers returning from any overseas official visits are now exempted from Section 15 of the Act.Instead, they will undergo observation for three days or surveillance until they are discharged without danger to the public.

“Read carefully. We included the word ‘or’ to ensure it will not be a blanket ruling for all ministers to fly in and out, and get off after three days, ” said Dr Adham.

Appealing for calm and stating that there was no double standard, he said the Health Ministry would not jeopardise the people’s health by simply making exemptions.

“We are quite sure we will soon flatten the Covid-19 curve and we will succeed, ” he said.

“However, the economy needs to recover and we need certain exemptions to encourage investors who are shying away from the country due to the many restrictions.”