Parliament and the nation should be informed whether the Cabinet meeting today chaired by Abdullah - as the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad, is away in Japan for a post-APEC Summit visit - had discussed any contingency plan in the face of the worldwide anthrax alert and whether the Cabinet had decided on precautionary measures needed to tackle the threat of bioterrorism, especially the threat of smallpox.
Malaysians are relieved that to date, all the anthrax scares have proved to be hoaxes, with seven of the 14 envelopes of powdery substances analysed as not deadly anthrax spores.
DAP fully agrees that no mercy should be shown and the most severe action must be taken against the culprits who perpetrated the anthrax scare at these highly sensitive times, although it is rather dubious whether these anthrax pranksters could be charged with “attempted murder” as suggested by the Inspector-General of Police, Tan Sri Norian Mai, for sending talcum powder or carpet cleaning detergent mistaken as anthrax bacteria.
The worldwide anthrax threat cannot be taken lightly however, with the latest report of the death of two United States postal workers, who had contracted the inhaled form of anthrax.
The confirmed anthrax toll in the United States stood at 12, half the deadly inhaled form of anthrax and the other half the easily treatable skin form. The three deaths are the two Washington postal workers and a Florida tabloid photo editor who died from the inhaled form. Five more inhaled cases are suspected, including a New Jersey postal worker hospitalized near Trenton.
It is a matter of global concern that there are evidence suggesting a connection between the September 11 terrorist attacks in New York, Washington and Pennyslvania and the anthrax terrorist attacks - the text of three anthrax-tainted letters which bore the date Sept. 11, the day that 19 suicide airplane hijackers killed over 5,500 people from 81 countries.
In the face of bio-terrorism, the United States authorities are giving topmost priority to another, once unthinkable, threat: smallpox - for centuries one of the most potent of scourges to afflict the human species.
The last naturally occuring case of smallpox was recorded in Somalia in 1977 and three years later, the World Health Organisation declared smallpox officially defeated.
The United States had not seen smallpox, a highly infectious illness that is fatal for three in 10 people who catch it, since 1949.
Smallpox poses a more frightening threat than anthrax, as it is a virus and can very quickly be spread from person to person, which is why it has been described as the “lion king of infectious diseases”.
The United States has about 15 million doses of smallpox vaccine for civilian use, but now wants 300 million doses of the vaccine to inoculate all 260 million Americans - which would require at least nine months to produce.
What is Malaysia’s state of readiness whether on smallpox or other forms of bioterrorist attacks in the country?