(Petaling Jaya, Monday): I call on the Health Minister, Datuk Chua Jui Meng not to repeat the mistake of again imposing a gag order which could only end up in further undermining public confidence in the government’s handling of the Nipah virus outbreak, which has already caused the death of over 100 lives and unnecessary ruin of the RM2.4 billion pig-rearing industry in the country.
In early February, the Health Minister forbade state health officers from giving information on Japanese encephalitis (JE) outbreak - as the Health Minister believed at the time that it was the JE virus which was causing the havoc - resulting in the subsequent runaway panic in Bukit Pelanduk and the country, as a situation was created where the people, when denied of information, was prone to believe all sorts of rumours and speculation.
The Health Minister should take serious note of the comment of a medical expert that "the free exchange of information can never cause the expansion of an epidemic, and that statements that the public should not panic cannot begin to assuage public feelings that the entire story is not being told".
When Chua Jui Meng was in Penang on Friday, he told the press at a MCA lunch that he had not been informed of a second case of a pig farm in the Penang state being tested Nipah virus positive, when the test result was known by that morning. Later the same day, the government authorities took the decision to destroy the pigs on the farm.
Was Chua Jui Meng telling the truth when he told the press last Friday that he did not know about a second pig farm in Penang being tested Nipah virus positive, when all the relevant government authorities had known about it earlier that morning.
Secondly, can Chua Jui Meng explain whether he has imposed a new gag order to prohibit the release all information about the Nipah virus outbreak, as for the past three days, there had been no information whatsoever about the second case of a pig farm in Bukit Tambun, Penang which had been tested Nipah virus positive, and about the destruction of 1,800 pigs on the farm which started yesterday.
I understand that there is currently an appeal against an order for the destruction of another 1,600 pigs in Bukit Tambun.
Chua Jui Meng must be warned that attempt to suppress news and information on a matter of great public interest is counter-productive and can only undermine public confidence in the credibility of the government, and I call on Chua Jui Meng to take immediate action to lift the gag order on the Nipah virus outbreak, whether in Penang or in any other part of the country, and let the people know what is happening in Bukit Tambun.