By Mariam Mokhtar
We would like to know if the quarantine centers that were set up by the government, for Malaysians returning from overseas are fit for purpose?
Do they satisfy the requirements of the International Health Regulations (IHR) with regard to cleanliness, accommodation, food, privacy, and facilities including ease of communication with health personnel and with the outside world?
It is wrong to assume that Malaysians returning from overseas demand five star hotel accommodation during quarantine.
Many are happy to return home, and accept that they must be in isolation for a fortnight, because of the threat of coronavirus, but their only request is that the quarantine facilities, although basic, are clean, habitable and not cramped.
They understand the need to be quarantined, to help halt the spread of coronavirus, in case they are carriers of the disease, but why should they put their health at risk, and contract a disease, because the place is filthy, or because another resident is infected. Nor do they want to develop mental health issues, from being forced to live in an uninhabitable facility, for 14 days.
On 1 April, Minister, Ismail Sabri Yaakob, said that from 3 April, any Malaysian returning from overseas, will be sent for quarantine for 14 days, as soon as they leave their aircraft. We are also told that 364 quarantine centers have been established in Malaysia.
The quarantine order is welcome news for many, especially the Director-General of Health, Dr Noor Hisham, who said that an average of 23% of Malaysians returning from overseas, did not observe the home quarantine rules. Investigations found that many of those with coronavirus, had been infected by Malaysians who had returned from overseas.
Over the past week, shocking reports have emerged about the deplorable conditions of quarantine centers. More shocking are the denials, from the authorities about the allegations.
On 28 March, a group of students returning from London, were taken to their quarantine center in Kota Kinabalu. The journey from overseas was tiring and long, but when they saw their living quarters, they refused to stay there.
After an agreement with the authorities, they were given permission to check into selected hotels, as long as they bore the cost of the accommodation themselves. A video of the quarters which showed the dirty, cramped accommodation has been uploaded to YouTube.
On 2 April, a concerned daughter complained on social media that her elderly father had returned from Batam. Indonesia, on 2 April, the day before the quarantine was to start. He was sent to a quarantine center and forced to share a room with three others. There was no health screening and no paramedics.
All elderly people are considered high risk, and the father's fears intensified, when on the following day, one of the other occupants in the room had fits of coughing.
The complaints about dirty conditions and lack of medical screening are not isolated. When an oil and gas inspection engineer returned from overseas, he was put into quarantine at a center in Johor Bahru.
He said that there was no social isolation and they had to live in "disgusting conditions, with dirty toilets and mattresses". A group of his fellow detainees have threatened to leave the facility if their complaints were not addressed.
The engineer said, "When they gave us our rooms, we realized that they weren't rooms but dormitories, and there are three or four people in the open dorm.
"There are only common showers, which don't have doors. The toilets don't have toilet seats and it looks as if they haven't been cleaned for ages."
The engineer and his colleagues, had spent the last 40 days working offshore and were tired, and eager to return home. They were initially told they could self quarantine.
After five hours of form-filling and waiting for the authorities' decision, they were told they would instead be quarantined, at a government facility. Their requests to be moved, at their own cost into a hotel, were denied, because it needed the decision by a higher authority.
Incredibly, the complaints highlighting the poor conditions at the quarantine facilities in Sabah and Johor, have been denied by the authorities.
At the very least, the authorities should investigate the claims, instead of issuing outright denials. The allegations range from having to live in cramped and dirty quarters, having to share rooms with strangers, having no access to face masks or anti-bacterial sanitizers, not having basic health screening for coronavirus, like checking body temperature and noting other obvious signs of coronavirus like fatigue, coughing and high fever.
So, who vets and inspects the quarantine premises? Would the members of the National Security Council for themselves, or any of the members of their families, be happy to live for 14 days, in the disgusting quarantine facility?
Ismail Sabri should not dismiss these complaints lightly.
1. The Star: Malaysians home from abroad to get two weeks' quarantine
2. YouTube: Students returning to Sabah allege quarantine centers dirty and cramped
3. The Star: Students returning to Sabah allege quarantine centers dirty, not conducive to stay
4. The Star: Johor govt prepares 54 quarantine centers
5. Facebook: Selina Kong
6. Facebook: Selina Kong
7. Facebook: Johor health deparmtnet
8. Facebook: Moses Chong
9. Free Malaysia Today: Group frustrated over poor conditions at JB quarantine center
10. Free Malaysia Today: Viral video not a fake, Shafie rebuts Ismail Sabri's claim
11. WHO: Key considerations for repatriation and quarantine of travellers in relation to the outbreak of novel coronavirus 2019-nCoV
(Mariam Mokhtar is a Freelance Writer.)