DAP calls on
Health Ministry to fully implement the Cabinet decision of open and
transparent policy on the SARS outbreak by being 100% candid and not to give
a partial account as it did yesterday, as Malaysians are prepared for bad
news but do not want the government to continue to manipulate facts and
figures to downplay the severity of the new killer virus
Media Conference Statement
by Lim Kit Siang
After eight media statements in seven days on the SARS outbreak in Malaysia
and an urgent email to Acting Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad
Badawi on Tuesday calling for an immediate end of the Health Ministry's
denial syndrome and for a daily update to give full, accurate and timely
information about the deadly SARS disease, I am very relieved that the
Cabinet had made the right decision yesterday to direct the Health Minister,
Datuk Chua Jui Meng to end the dangerous farce of the three-week mantra of
"No Suspected SARS case" in Malaysia.
Yesterday, the Health Ministry director-general Tan Sri Dr. Mohamed Taha
Arif disclosed that 59 suspected cases of SARS have been reported in the
country, with 19 people quarantined in hospitals - in contrast to his
proclamation only 48 hours ago that Malaysia was "free from SARS" and the
assertion by the Health Minister a week ago that his Ministry had not
received any information of reported suspected SARS case!
The 59 suspected SARS cases, with 19 of them in quarantine, could not have
turned up overnight - and this was why Chua and Mohamad Taha had no
credibility whatsoever with their "no SARS cases, no suspected SARS cases or
deaths caused by SARS" mantra until yesterday!
DAP commends Abdullah for showing decisive leadership in ending the
three-week denial syndrome of the Health Minister on the SARS outbreak, for
it is a major step to wipe out the stigma Malaysia is acquiring
internationally as a rogue state which hides or manipulates statistics about
the new killer virus to downplay its seriousness, posing a threat not only
to the lives of the Malaysian people but also the international community.
The decision for a daily update of the SARS outbreak, which is being done by
other countries, is a great credit to Abdullah's leadership and holds out
hope of a more open, accountable and transparent government when he takes
over as Prime Minister in October.
While I am relieved that Abdullah has taken the policy decision that the
government must be open and transparent in the SARS outbreak, I am
disappointed that the Health Ministry has not fully implemented this policy.
I call on the Health Ministry to be 100% candid with Malaysians and to give
a full and uncensored account of the SARS outbreak and not to give a partial
account as it is doing at present, as the people are prepared for bad news
but do not want the government to continue to manipulate facts and figures
to downplay the severity of the new killer virus.
When Chua and Mohamad Taha were maintaining their "No suspected SARS case"
stances, I had specifically in a media statement on Tuesday morning called
on Chua to "come clean and clarify whether there had been scores of
suspected cases of SARS in Malaysia" because of reliable information that I
I want today to ask Chua and Mohamad Taha why they had only given a partial
account instead of a full and complete picture of the total number of
suspected SARS cases in the country, which may be twice or thrice the 59
reported cases announced yesterday? Is this to avoid being seen overnight to
be overtaking the number of SARS cases in Singapore, which stands now at 98
with four deaths?
I am very shocked by Mohamad Taha's statement yesterday that there were 59
suspected SARS cases, with only 19 still warded - four each in Sarawak, the
Federal Territory and Perak, five in Universiti Hospital Medical Centre and
one each in Johor and Kelantan and that to date, there had been no probable
SARS case or SARS-related deaths reported in Malaysia.
Chua should explain why the Health Ministry has ignored the World Health
Organisation (WHO) definition of SARS suspected and probable cases.
Under the WHO definition, a suspected SARS case is one which meets the three
criteria of firstly, high fever (more than 38C, 100.4 F); secondly, one or
more respiratory symptoms including cough, shortness of breath, difficulty
breathing and thirdly, recent history of travel to a SARS-infected area or
close contact with a person who has been diagnosed with SARS.
It becomes a probable case when there is a chest X-ray findings of pneumonia
or Respiratory Distress Syndrome.
Chua and Mohamad Taha should explain whether they have taken a policy
decision to ignore the WHO definitions by announcing the WHO-defined
"probable SARS cases" as suspected cases, while ignoring the WHO-defined
"suspected SARS cases" altogether - as I have been informed by doctors who
have treated these cases that the number of SARS suspected cases far exceed
the 59 mentioned by Mohamad Taha, and are easily twice or even three times
Yesterday, Mohamad Taha said the man from Jerantut who died on Sunday at the
Kuala Lumpur Hospital had symptoms of SARS, and that samples taken from the
post-mortem had been sent to the Institute of Medical Research for further
tests and would take two weeks "to find out whether he died of probable SARS"
- and therefore the case has not been classified as "probable SARS".
Under the WHO definition, this would be a clear case of probable SARS case
or SARS-related death. Since the Health Ministry is having its own unique
definition of suspected and probable SARS cases which are different from
those of WHO, it should immediately spell out its own definition of these
two categories of SARS cases.
An example of the unprofessional and most irresponsible attitude of the
authorities to the SARS outbreak could be seen from the denial yesterday
morning by the Pahang State Youth, Sports and Health Exco member, Datuk Dr.
Ahmad Shukri Ismail that the person from Jerantut had died of SARS, claiming
that this was the report from tests by the Health Ministry. (Sin Chew
In the present era of IT, the government has not learnt that it is
impossible to suppress information. Ministers and government officials
forget or ignore at their peril the fact in the era of IT, information
travels at the speed of light. Yesterday, there was in circulation the
following email, which clearly was not the work of mischief of any
irresponsible person but the genuine expression both of grief and anger at
the death of the person from Jerantut:
"My hometown neighbour (Jerantut, Pahang) passed away yesterday evening
because of SARS sickness. He passed away at KL General Hospital. He came
back from China (travel to Guang Dong) one week ago, after that he was not
feeling well (fever, flu) until no energy to walk at all.
"He went to Mentakab Hospital (Pahang) for checking, but doctor only take it
as normal case and gave him some medicines and ask him to rest at home.
"Until Friday (28/3), he getting worse until no energy to walk, very
serious. His son bring him to KL Tawakal Hospital on Saturday and
immediately transfer to KL General Hospital. Doctor confirmed this is SARS
sickness and seems they can't help anything, My neighbour passed away
yesterday evening. Our government still continuous saying 'M'sia safe',
still don't have any SARS cases."
Yesterday, Chua said: "I have directed Dr. Mohamad Taha that there must be
transparency and Malaysians must be informed of all suspected SARS cases
reported to the ministry." Chua made history as the Minister who had made
the most unbelievable statement as he must personally bear the greatest
responsibility for the information and media blackout not only about SARS,
but also in other epidemics, such as coxsackie, nipah and dengue, which is
still raging on.
Last Thursday, I publicly called for a high-powered Cabinet Committee to
take over full responsibility for combating the SARS outbreak, as Malaysians
have no confidence in Chua after his disastrous handling of previous
epidemics at unnecessarily great and avoidable cost to human lives and
This lack of public confidence has been vindicated by past week's
developments in the SARS outbreak. I will however suspend criticism of Chua
until after the SARS outbreak, as the immediate task now is to bring the new
virus killer disease under control.
Last Saturday, Chua blamed Malaysians for being afflicted by the "suspicion
culture" not believing his claim of "No suspected SARS case" in Malaysia and
criticcising the people for spreading baseless rumours about SARS.
The people have now been proved right to have the "suspicious culture" about
Chua's claims, which were all false and baseless.
is to begin to restore some public confidence, he should start by lifting
the ban on Health Ministry officials, Mentris Besar, Chief Ministers and
State health officials from giving the public the full, accurate and timely
information about dengue cases and deaths in the current dengue epidemic,
the worst in the nation's history.
is not prepared to be candid with Malaysians about the dengue epidemic, who
will trust that he will be candid about the SARS outbreak?
just been informed by DAP MP for Batu Gajah, Fong Po Kuan, that her motion
of urgent definite public importance to adjourn Parliament today to debate
the SARS outbreak has been rejected by the Speaker, Tun Mohamed Zahir, on
the most ridiculous of grounds. In his letter dated yesterday to Fong
rejecting her motion, the Speaker said:
oleh pihak Kementerian Kesihatan berkenaan dengan empat kes di Hosptial Ipoh
itu. Kes-kes itu hanya disyaki sahaja sebagai kes SARS. Dua kes di Hospital
Kuala Lumpur juga dimasukkan sebagai kes yang disyaki. Kesemua kes ini bukan
sebagai kes SARS mengikut criteria WHO. Ada akhbar telah menyiarkan kes-kes
ini sebagai SARS.
Kerajaan tidak melaporkan kes-kes ini kepada orangramai. Mereka tidak boleh
melaporkan sesuatu yang tidak betul."
clear that the Speaker wrote this letter with information from the Health
Ministry before the Cabinet decision yesterday to end the denial syndrome
and to be fully open and transparent on the SARS outbreak. What is worse,
these two paragraphs show that the Speaker was utterly confused and
uninformed about SARS outbreak, which is a most adverse reflection on the
high office of the Speaker.
Speaker was not only misinformed, misled but utterly confused in rejecting
Fong's motion. What is more shocking, the Speaker had reduced himself to be
a spokesman of the Health Ministry to mislead Parliament about SARS instead
of discharging his responsibilities as Speaker of Parliament where the
Health Minister appears to justify his handling of SARS outbreak.
another example of the irrelevance of Parliament, and the failure of the
majority of MPs to stand united to re-assert parliamentary control of the
Executive. It is only when the majority of MPs, whether from Barisan
Nasional or Opposition, have the spirit of Fong to demand ministerial
accountability to Parliament for his mishandling of the SARS outbreak that
Parliament can regain its relevance and proper position in the Malaysian
Lim Kit Siang, DAP National