Malaysians owe a debt of gratitude to the former Minister of Health, Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad for his leadership at his ministry. He left a solid foundation, and competent people to tackle the outbreak of Coronavirus (Covid-19). His team are professionals and despite Dr Dzul’s absence will continue his good work.
In January 2020, the Ministry of Health (MOH) issued a guideline to prevent the disease from spreading. Malaysians were urged to avoid crowded places and stay away from people who showed symptoms of infection.
At the time we were probably unaware of the incubation period (14 days) of the disease and that people may not outwardly present the symptoms until that period had lapsed.
Anyway, few appeared to listen to the MOH and it is possible that 10,000 participants in a Muslim missionary gathering, may have been exposed to Covid-19.
The event was held at a mosque in Seri Petaling and lasted from 27 February to 1 March.
Why is it that the ministry of religious affairs, likes to act on its own, and avoid the advice of other ministries. When will they learn that they cannot act in isolation?
On Monday, a participant from Brunei participant fell ill with Covid-19, and the following day, five others have contracted Covid-19. All had known the participant with Covid-19.
The MOH is tracking another 5,000 Malaysians who attended the event, but the question remains; why did the Ministry of Religious Affairs under its new head, not pressure mosques to postpone such gatherings?
When the new Minister of Religious Affairs, the former Federal Territory mufti, Zulkifli Mohamad, said that there was no need to ban Friday prayers, many Malaysians were furious. 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 has ordered the suspension of Friday prayers (13 March) until the process of disinfecting the mosques has been completed. These mosques were visited by the participants of the event in Kuala Lumpur. 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 another two of its members had tested positive for Covid-19, the Catholic Bishops of Malaysia ordered its churches to stop public sermons until 29 March.
In Malaysia, the Perlis mufti and the Agung issued conflicting messages about Friday prayers. One said ban, the other said go albeit to have shorter sermons. Talk about misinformation and confusing signals! There should only be one official announcement.
In Iran, blind allegiance to rituals caused several deaths, because people were kissing and licking shrines in the false belief that god would protect them.
Iran has recorded the most deaths from Covid-19, outside China, but the religious authorities refused to act on the advice of the Health Ministry and shut down these sites to stop the spread of infection. There are reports of individuals who say that 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, those with an existing medical condition such as diabetes or respiratory diseases, and those with a reduced immune system, are at risk.
On 8 February, the MOH’s official circular urged individuals to stop skin-to skin contact and not shake hands. This simple advice has fallen on deaf ears.
The photo of the Housing and Local Government minister, Zuraida Kamaruddin, shaking hands with her office staff is alarming. Don’t ministers observe the guidelines which other ministries have issued? Is communication between the ministries, as bad as is alleged.
One does not need an official guideline to try to stop the spread of Covid -19. All one needs is common sense.
The MOH cannot be accused of being un-receptive to suggestions.
When an article in FMT alerted the MOH to the incorrect impression created by it’s official poster, which showed a picture of a dog, under the heading of animals spreading the virus, the necessary change was made within a few days. The official MOH poster now shows a picture of a bat, which experts allege is a possible origin of the virus.
Another of the recommendations of the MOH was to wash one’s hands regularly with soap and water and use hand sanitisers.
Would the Minister for Religious Affairs issue a simple directive to allay the fears of Muslims, who wrongly think that they are going against their religion because many sanitising hand gels are alcohol based?
There are allegations that some Muslims have refused to use alcohol-based hand gels. They are concerned because the Koran 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 Malaysian cases of Covid-19 spikes, have we enough hospital beds, hospital staff, equipment and ICU facilities to cope? Do listen to the MOH to stop the spread of infection. Prevention is better than cure.