Sabah Must Assert Autonomy, Enforce Full Contact Tracing – Wilfred Madius Tangau

The Sabah state government must turn their state-owned hotels into quarantine facilities as the current designated quarantine facilities have reached maximum capacity.

In response to the federal Ministry of Health’s (MOH) decision of implementing a reduced number of test samples for Covid-19 clusters, I urgently implore the state government to assert their autonomy to continue testing on all contacts who have been exposed to the virus within an identified cluster.

The decision to only assess a certain percentage of symptomatic individuals and disregarding asymptomatic people is an act of imprudence as evidence throughout the pandemic has shown that the virus strain can also be present in asymptomatic individuals.

As a result, the likelihood of undetected carriers to continue spreading this virus is increased and a colossal outbreak will be imminent.

The Sabah state government must not follow the example of the federal government to limit contact tracing procedures. Our state’s borders are porous to foreigners due to the very long coastline as well as the existence of jalan tikus along the Indonesian and Philippines borders.

Decision-makers in Putrajaya cannot assume every part of Malaysia to be like Klang Valley, where police roadblocks are enough to stop inter-state and inter-district travels. In Sabah, how do we set up roadblocks on South China Sea and Sulu Sea?

Abiding Putrajaya’s one-size-fits-all policy on contact tracing means Sabahans would be extremely vulnerable to the threat of imported Covid-19 cases. Can’t the state government reject a flawed policy that might be lethal to our community’s safety?

I strongly believe that post-Covid Malaysia needs a new deal on federalism beyond even the confines of MA63. Matters like health, education, policing and transportation must no longer remain federal matters. Instead, these matters where decision-making must be sensitive and responsive to local needs must be made concurrent matters so that decisions can be jointly made by the federal and state governments.

Such decentralisation must happen not only for Sabah and Sarawak, but for all states. Sabah should look to the successful models of countries such as Australia and New Zealand which have minimal or non-existent community spread with fully functioning health services.

Their essential strategies include wide testing (32,000 tests done within the community where five cases are detected) with many test centres and drive-through test facilities. In this instance, any particular individual seeking to get tested will receive appropriate attention. Their tracking and tracing procedures are fast and effective.

The Australian government uses a scheme whereby hotels are allocated for the quarantine of foreigners who arrive in their country.

Applying this method into our current situation in Sabah, I call on the state government to turn their state-owned hotels into quarantine facilities as the current designated quarantine facilities have reached maximum capacity and are no longer able to provide space to stay for new individuals.

This modus operandi will secure an efficient enforcement of quarantined people.

People who tested positive for this virus should be quarantined in dedicated facilities, not at home. This is essential so that they can receive proper medical attention while ensuring that the virus does not continue to spread as essential activities such as visiting hospitals and acquiring groceries can be taken care of by the government through the provision of these necessities.

To this regard, I beseech the state government to hire more staff to guard these quarantine centres if the current staff under the federal MOH is unable to cope with the exponential rising number of individuals who have tested positive for the virus.

Consequently, this is the reason that I tabled the motion to cut RM85 million for the federal government’s spin-doctoring agency, the Special Affairs Department (Jabatan Hal Ehwal Khas, JASA) so that half of the fund, RM42 million, might be earmarked for Sabah. If only all Sabah MPs had supported my motion, we might have the chance to force the Finance Ministry to transfer half of JASA’s RM 85 million to Sabah.

We, as the representatives chosen by the people to lead our nation, have the responsibility to prevent more Covid-related deaths. We have to focus our resources and energy on where there are greater needs, to meet the pressing needs of our people.

The Sabah state government must summon its moral courage to assert our autonomy on health-related issues. It has the political strength to force Putrajaya to listen to us. It must therefore take charge during this war with Covid-19 for the sake of the security, safety and health of Sabahans.

Preventing Sabah from becoming the Covid-19 epicentre again is also saving Malaysia. If the number spikes in Sabah, even if Sabahans can be blocked from leaving the state, doctors and nurses would still have to be flown in to serve in our hospitals.

Once again, I adjure my friends in the Sabah State Government to do the right thing, for both Sabah and Malaysia. It is exactly at critical junctures like this,that Sabahans must use our power smartly to assert autonomy and save lives!

Wilfred Madius Tangau is president of UPKO and Member of Parliament for Tuaran.

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