KUALA LUMPUR, May 19 — Sabah and Sarawak have decided to halt and reduce the number of chartered flights carrying returning residents to reduce the risk of congestion at quarantine centres.
Sarawak Deputy Chief Minister Douglas Uggah Embas said that the state would pause incoming flights into the state if there are insufficient hotel rooms to accommodate every new person-under-surveillance (PUS) for Covid-19 in the state, as reported by The Borneo Post.
He told a press conference yesterday that the state government had to suspend several incoming flights to Sibu recently when Sibu had insufficient hotel rooms to accommodate all of the incoming PUS cases.
“That’s why one time we stopped flights to Sibu because Sibu did not have enough hotel rooms to quarantine them (PUS), and we also reduced flights to Kuching and Miri also to make sure there are enough hotel rooms to accommodate all the PUS,” Uggah was quoted telling a press conference yesterday.
He further added that the decision to suspend some flights, which prevented some students from returning to their home state was not an easy choice to make, but it was a necessary step to prevent further coronavirus transmissions.
“And now Sabah is following us, they also stopped many flights coming in. So, it is not a very easy decision, and we know that this disease is very contagious. That’s why we always consult our medical experts before finalising any decision,” he said.
Uggah was also asked about the risk of infection between two student PUS placed in the same hotel room if one were to be found positive, and he explained that most students were staying in their respective campus before returning to the state, which was similar to being quarantined or isolated.
“When we were told there will be more than 7,000 students coming back from peninsula, Sabah and Labuan, including normal Sarawakians coming back, their numbers are so big.
“We were also told most of the students were staying in their respective campus, so it’s the same as quarantine or isolation. Therefore, we consider them as PUS and not very high risk. We also look at the capacity of the hotel rooms in Sarawak. Since we decided to quarantine them, then the only option is cannot be one person per room.
“But if one of the students showed symptoms during screening upon arrival, he will be sent to the hospital immediately,” he explained.
He further added that medical experts had given advice that two students can be placed in one room before the policy was implemented.
“If one of them happens to be positive later, then only we will detect the roommate as close contact,” he said.
Meanwhile, Sabah has stopped all chartered flights of returning university students into the state due to an overwhelming number of returnees, posing a risk of overcrowding its quarantine centres, as reported by The Star.
State Education and Innovation Minister Yusof Yacob reportedly said that there were some 6,796 students scheduled to return to the state, but the available quarantine centres would not be able to cope with the large number of returning students and other state residents all at the same time.
“We expect congestion at the quarantine centres provided by the government. We are stopping or postponing the chartered flights for now,” he said, urging students to remain calm and patient, and to keep their parents informed of the current situation.
The Sabah Health Department also reportedly pressed for the rescheduling of chartered flights due to concerns of congesting quarantine centres. The department’s director, Dr Christina Rundi, said that all returnees are required to undergo Covid-19 screening and would have to stay at the centres pending test results.
“We have asked for the chartered flights bringing back students to be rescheduled. This is because thousands of them are expected to come back for Hari Raya.
“They will have to be put at quarantine centres until the laboratory results are obtained on their Covid-19 tests,” Dr Christina said in a statement yesterday.
She further explained that it is necessary to keep the returning students until their Covid-19 test results are obtained as they carry a risk of spreading the coronavirus if they are allowed to return to their respective hometowns without prior screening.
She reported that 7,422 people are undergoing home quarantine and another 2,331 people were isolated at 42 quarantine centres throughout the state, as of May 16. Sabah has recorded a total of 331 Covid-19 cases as of May 18, with a death toll of five.
As of May 18, Sarawak has coordinated a total of 7,029 students’ return from the peninsula, Sabah and Labuan, and 5,883 students were returned to their respective homes. Sarawak recorded a total of 544 Covid-19 cases as of May 18, with a death toll of 17.