The Galen Centre for Health and Social Policy views with concern Senior Minister Ismail Sabri’s remark yesterday allowing apartments and condominiums management committees to demand COVID-19 swab tests and bar entry to residents who refuse to hand over their results.
The use of tests in this manner are indicative of an incomplete and inaccurate understanding of the function and limitations of Covid-19 testing. This remark greenlights a course of action which will open the door to potential widespread abuse, vigilantism and discrimination. It will give a dangerous and false sense of security.
Let us be clear. These actions by these condominiums and apartments committees are not evidence-based. Unlike blood tests, Covid-19 testing, whether antigen-based or using polymerase chain reaction (PCR), captures a person’s status at a certain point of time.
A person can get infected just before taking the test, and have a negative result. A negative test result only means that that person did not have Covid-19 at the time of testing. A test does not protect or prevent a person from becoming positive or infected shortly after or later on.
How about residences with larger families? Will all family members be subjected to testing, and how frequent would that be? How much is that going to cost? Foreigners, especially migrants including documented workers, will be vulnerable to blackmail and abuse.
Does the management committee now not only have access to confidential medical information but also gets to decide who can or cannot enter? Demands by management committees for Covid-19 test results, copies of passports and pictures of those who are positive, and making entry into residences conditional upon compliance, are not only likely to be illegal but are also open to abuse and exploitation.
The question is not whether, but when it will happen.
Giving condominiums and apartments this unjust authority, will encourage vigilantism. Foreign workers have been disproportionately and unfairly blamed for the ongoing Covid-19 outbreak. This will fuel xenophobia.
Will we see groups of righteous and self-anointed citizens standing at the gates of condominiums or knocking on doors of homes, demanding to see test results and claiming the right to do so in the name of collective protection, safety, and security?
Even Malaysians are not likely to be spared such harassment. In some residences, residents are already encouraged to inform on their neighbours.
Like all previous epidemics, the effects of Covid-19 are exacerbated by such actions which are based on fear and stigma. People are facing discrimination. Families are being ostracised by communities.
Covid-19 stigma is already causing prejudice, widening inequalities, increasing vulnerabilities to violence, harassment and ostracisation, and working against public health objectives intended to manage the epidemic. Lives are already being lost due to Covid-19 stigma.
Rather than defend the practice, the National Security Council should make it clear that it is not acceptable. Condominium and apartment committees should instead focus their collective efforts on educating their residents, improving adherence to SOPS, and ensuring good hygiene practices.
This will yield better results and a greater and sustainable impact. The evidence and science show that this works.
No one is safe, until everyone is safe.
Azrul Mohd Khalib is Chief Executive Officer of the Galen Centre for Health and Social Policy.
- This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of CodeBlue.