Parliament’s Covid-19 Curbs Unscientific, Baseless: Dzulkefly

The former health minister calls for a caucus comprising public health experts outside MOH to work with MOH in handling the Covid-19 epidemic in Malaysia.

KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 23 — Various rules limiting Parliament debates ahead of a crucial Budget 2021 vote are not supported by scientific evidence on Covid-19, former Health Minister Dzulkefly Ahmad said today.

This week, ahead of Thursday’s scheduled policy vote on Budget 2021, ministers have been given only 20 minutes to respond to questions from various Members of Parliament posed in the past two weeks. The chambers still limit the number of MPs in attendance to 80, while daily sittings continue to be limited to 2pm each day from Monday to Thursday.

These restrictions continue to be in place, despite a requirement for all 222 MPs and their assistants to get tested for Covid-19 every two weeks during the current Parliament meeting.

“I appreciate MOH’s efforts, especially the Health DG, to protect the safety of Members of Parliament. But I would like to register here that based on research among the top-notch experts of public health from Harvard, if someone has symptoms and tested positive for Covid-19, the cough of that infected person will release 3,000 respiratory droplets. A sneeze will release 30,000 droplets and millions of virus particles will be released.

“But all of us are required to undergo the gold standard RT-PCR Covid-19 tests every two weeks once to detect the presence of SARS-CoV-2. It can even pick up dead virus particles, not just the viruses that are alive,” Dzulkefly told the Dewan Rakyat today, before ministers’ speeches began.

He also pointed out that the risk of virus transmission is extremely low in a “sanitised room”. The Dewan Rakyat is sanitised regularly during Parliament meetings.

“We avoid confined, congested, and conversation. This is the minister speaking at a far distance from us in a sanitised hall. I totally question this, why are obstacles placed upon us — a minister is only given 20 minutes to speak — because this is not based on science and evidence-based medicine,” the former health minister added.

Dzulkefly also called on the government to work together with public health experts, such as top notch infectious disease clinicians and epidemiologists outside the Ministry of Health (MOH), to form a caucus to work with MOH in the Covid-19 public health response.

“I don’t want to question anyone’s expertise,” said the Kuala Selangor MP.

“But let’s base our discussion and decision on the latest and thorough evidence and science. We are still learning a lot more about this virus, SARS-CoV-2.”

It is to be noted that only 80 from the 222 MPs are allowed to enter the Dewan Rakyat for daily sittings, including for ministers’ response to issues raised by MPs about Budget 2021. During the oral question and answer time, the slot for MPs to ask questions has been reduced to 55 minutes from 90 minutes. Ministers’ Question Time is allowed for five minutes only from the previous 30 minutes.

After the tabling of Budget 2021, the Parliament debate session is seen as crucial as it is the only ground for lawmakers in the country to debate on the shortcomings of the Budget presentation and to hear ministers’ reply on issues that they raise.

Earlier, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Takiyuddin Hassan stated that ministers are limited to 20 minutes to read out loud the executive summary of their response, and to upload the rest of their speech online.

Takiyuddin cited Health director-general Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah as purportedly saying that longer Parliament hours are not encouraged to mitigate the risk of Covid-19 transmission.

Pakatan Harapan MPs today strongly objected to the continued restrictions during ministers’ replies on issues raised about Budget 2021. Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim mentioned that Parliament is a ground to debate on issues and not just a place to read pre-prepared answer scripts.

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