KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 29 — Malaysia hopes China will allow the evacuation of Malaysians from Wuhan, a city under lockdown after sparking a SARS-like outbreak that killed over 130 people in China.
Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad, however, clarified that this would only involve Malaysian nationals there who are not infected with the novel coronavirus currently dubbed 2019-nCoV. A total of 78 Malaysians are currently in the central Chinese city.
He referred to the move by the Japanese government to airlift their citizens out of Wuhan with the permission of the Chinese government, and hoped that Beijing would extend the same favour to Putrajaya.
Dr Mahathir also reassured the public that those who are allowed to return to Malaysia from Wuhan will be screened upon arrival in the country. If they show signs of being infected with the possibly fatal coronavirus, they will be quarantined at the 26 government hospitals on standby for these cases.
“They will be subjected to 14 days of quarantine to make sure that they are not suffering from infections by this virus,” Dr Mahathir told a press conference at the Prime Minister’s Office in Putrajaya earlier this afternoon.
The decision to request that Malaysians be allowed to return was made in today’s Cabinet meeting, which Dr Mahathir earlier chaired.
He could not give a timeline for when they would return, but said that Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah will be on the ball.
The prime minister said his government has been informed that Malaysians in Wuhan are short of food supplies, with some only having enough food for four days.
“We also want to help Wuhan,” he added. “So, if we have to send planes to take back our citizens, if allowed by the Chinese government, we will bring food, and if we can, gloves, and masks.”
Dr Mahathir, meanwhile, spoke of irresponsible actions by some over the Wuhan coronavirus outbreak, referring to the controversial move by the Putra Mosque in Putrajaya to close its doors to non-Muslims visitors because of the outbreak.
“This is not the government’s policy,” Dr Mahathir clarified. “We have not declared that mosques or museums cannot be visited by tourists because apparently they might carry that disease to these places… this is an irresponsible act.”
The government will also take action against those who intentionally put out fake news over the outbreak with the intention of scaring Malaysians and inciting racial tension, he said.
“While we believe in freedom of the press, that does not mean that the press should agitate people and cause people to be antagonistic towards each other. We will take action against those people,” he pledged, as authorities today announced that one person had been arrested over the publication of fake news on the outbreak.
On concerns that thermal scanners are not in place at departure areas at international airports to detect cases of those who manifest symptoms late, Dr Mahathir said Malaysia is worried about people who come in, not those who leave the country.
“In Wuhan, yes, they can’t leave, they can’t come in, but in Malaysia, we want to prevent people from coming in,” he said. “But if they are going out and even if they have the disease, they are going out, then it is something else. We don’t examine them.”
The Guardian reported China’s National Health Commission as saying that the incubation period for 2019-nCoV was generally three to seven days, with the longest no more than 14 days, which means that patients could show symptoms of the virus much later on.
Malaysia has recorded seven confirmed cases of the new coronavirus, all of whom are Chinese nationals. All have been warded at hospitals nationwide, with most reported in stable condition. The death toll from the coronavirus outbreak in China has risen to 132, with 5,974 confirmed cases of infection in the country.