Houseman Orientation Continues Despite Minister’s Advisory Against Gatherings

The induction programme involves 92 to 93 participants in each of 10 venues.

KUALA LUMPUR, March 16 — The house officers’ induction programme will run nationwide from today, even though Health Minister Dr Adham Baba has advised against gatherings of above 50 people amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

Dr Rohaizat Yon, Health deputy director-general (medical), said in a letter to the Ministry of Health’s (MOH) training management division that the second series of the trainee doctors’ orientation course for this year, “Program Transformasi Minda” (PTM), would run from today for three days, shortened from the original five days. The induction involves 90 to 100 participants from each state.

“Seeing that the PTM only involves a number of participants that is not categorised as a ‘mass gathering’, which is less than 250 participants, therefore the programme can continue as scheduled,” Dr Rohaizat said in a letter dated March 13, as sighted by CodeBlue.

Deputy Health Minister Dr Noor Azmi Ghazali said trainee doctors returning from overseas should not join the orientation programme with 925 participants in total, between 92 and 93 in each of 10 venues. He did not specify where these venues were.

“The doctors are needed for the country,” Dr Noor Azmi told CodeBlue, when asked why MOH was continuing the programme despite its own advisory against mass gatherings.

“That’s why the decision is a special one,” he added. “They need to go for this short course. Only important subjects of discussion done.”

Last Saturday, Dr Adham urged the public not to gather in groups of above 50. He also told reporters in Johor Baru that 1,000 house officers would be placed in public hospitals across the country from today to help with daily operations amid the coronavirus pandemic. MOH tweeted that the junior doctors would be “trained to assist with Covid-19 cases”.

Dr Adham was referring to the trainee doctors completing this week’s orientation programme.

According to Dr Rohaizat’s letter, participants returning from abroad — especially those from novel coronavirus epicentres like China, South Korea, Japan, Italy, and Iran in fewer than 14 days prior — would not be allowed to join the PTM and must be referred to hospitals for screening and isolation.

The World Health Organization (WHO), however, said last Friday that Europe has now become the epicentre of the Covid-19 pandemic, with more reported cases and deaths than the rest of the world combined, apart from China where the virus originated from.

“If there are participants who have been exposed to positive Covid-19 cases (contact of confirmed case) in two weeks, then they must be referred to hospitals for screening and examination, and instructed to do self-quarantine at home,” Dr Rohaizat said in his letter.

He added that participants in the housemen’s orientation programme will be screened and denied entry if they suffer from fever or other respiratory symptoms like sore throat, cough, and cold.

If the number of participants in a session exceeds 250 people, the session must be conducted in two separate rooms, he said. Participants must be seated at safe distances from each other.

Participants are also required to wash their hands frequently or to use hand sanitisers, practice good coughing etiquette, and avoid shaking hands.

“A slot on a briefing or further explanation about the Covid-19 disease must be included in the PTM module to raise awareness for participants,” Dr Rohaizat said.

All participants of the housemen’s orientation programme cannot be placed at the infectious diseases ward or the screening counter for Covid-19 when they report for duty at training hospitals, said the high-ranking MOH official.

“Become housemen like usual, but not to handle Covid-19 case,” Dr Adham told CodeBlue, when asked to clarify if the new trainee doctors will handle coronavirus infections. “Anyway they must have knowledge on coronavirus.”

He announced yesterday Malaysia’s highest jump in Covid-19 cases in a single day at 190 new infections, totalling 428 cases in the country. Most of the new cases were linked to a recent tabligh gathering at the Sri Petaling mosque in Kuala Lumpur.

Update at 11am:

Dr Adham Baba told CodeBlue that the housemen will be “split into very small groups” during their orientation.

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