Urgent email to
Abdullah to ask Cabinet direct Health Ministry to give full and daily public
update of SARS to restore public confidence in the government handling of
the new killer virus
by Lim Kit Siang
I have just sent an urgent email to the Acting Prime Minister, Datuk Seri
Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, urging the Cabinet tomorrow to direct the Health
Ministry to give full and daily public updates of SARS to restore public
confidence in the government handling of the new killer virus.
At the outset, I told Abdullah that I had hoped that it would not be
necessary for me to email him on the SARS outbreak, but this had become
unavoidable in the public interest of saving lives and ensuring public
confidence as the Health Minister, Datuk Chua Jui Meng had chosen to
continue the policy - which had proved so disastrous in the dengue epidemic
- to deny information to the people on SARS with his mantra of "no suspected
In my email to Abdullah, I said:
"For several days,
there had been a quiet, intense and snowballing panic among the people about
SARS, as there is no public confidence in what the Health Minister and his
officials are saying on the subject.
"I myself do not find it believable that there are no suspected SARS case in
the country, although I do not know whether there is any confirmed SARS case
"This is because of the numerous reports, whether in the media or from oral
accounts, of people falling sick after their return from a tour of China,
meeting the three criteria for SARS set out by the World Health Organisation
(WHO): high fever of over 38° Celsius, dry cough and shortness of breath or
"Medical doctors in the government service have expressed their surprise and
shock that despite many suspected SARS cases which meet the three WHO
criteria, the Health Ministry has refused to take the Malaysian public into
its confidence but has stuck to the stance of 'no SARS cases, no suspected
SARS cases or deaths caused by SARS' in the country.
"Last night, all the Chinese newspaper night editions, Nanyang Siang Pau,
Sin Chew Daily, Guang Ming Daily and China Press, carried front-page
headlines about nation-wide concerns about the killer SARS disease in the
country, but this morning, they were all directed by the authorities to
remove the SARS story from the front-pages and put them in the inside pages.
"Such arbitrary manipulation of the media is not calculated to enhance
public confidence in the government handling of the SARS threat in Malaysia
but will only have the opposite effect.
"The government is only undermining its public credibility by continuing to
claim that there are no suspected SARS cases when hospitals are setting up
special quarantine wards while the four Perak DAP State Assemblymen who
visited the Ipoh General Hospital yesterday were barred from entering Ward
1C where patients had been transferred from the Teluk Intan general hospital
for suspected SARS.
"I am also very concerned about the safety of health workers, who have
proven to be a very vulnerable group in the SARS outbreak in other
countries, with high incidence of fatalities from doctors, nurses and health
workers, as I understand that there are health workers in Malaysia who have
been quarantined because of their contact with SARS cases.
"At this time of the lethal SARS outbreak, P.R. or public image should be
the least of all concerns of the government, as its first priority must be
to protect human lives and there is no better way to do so than by giving
full, accurate and timely information about the SARS outbreak - with a daily
public update report."
directed last week to furnish a comprehensive report containing the latest
statistics on SARS to the Cabinet tomorrow.
There should be no need for such a Cabinet directive, as such a
comprehensive report on SARS should have been made public regularly on a
daily basis, as is done by other countries.
The least the Cabinet should do tomorrow is to make public the comprehensive
report on SARS after its submission by Chua, as it is not only the Cabinet
but the entire Malaysian population who are entitled to this information.
Lim Kit Siang, DAP National