Turn Pulau Jerejak into a temporary quarantine centre to address Covid-19 situation

The Consumers’ Association of Penang (CAP) urges the government to consider using Pulau Jerejak as a temporary quarantine centre for the northern region.

This is not a frivolous idea since it had been used as a health quarantine centre for immigrants in 1875 and just a five-minute boat ride away from Penang Island. It has the land area, isolation, and because it is about 6 km from the Penang International airport. In emergencies, transportation from the Penang Hospital can easily reach Pulau Jerejak’s jetty, a distance of about 11 km, using Lebuhraya Tun Dr. Lim Chong Eu in about 20 minutes. It is also accessible by sea.

The reason for our proposal is because Malaysia is totally not equipped to handle Covid-19 pandemic or emergencies of a large scale because as in November 2019, Malaysian public and private hospitals have a hospital beds to the total population ratio (BPR) of 1.98 beds per 1,000 population. The average target for developed countries is 2.5 beds per 1,000 population. In simple terms, we do not have enough hospital beds to cope with a large number of cases that need admission.

The former Minister of Health Datuk Seri Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad was quoted in a report attributing the low ratio to “budget issues” and it is worrying because Malaysia’s 1.9 beds per 1,000 total population has remained about the same since 2012.

The current Health director-general Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah posted a graphic showing case numbers on a day-to-day basis, comparing the coronavirus trajectory in Italy to Malaysia recently. There are stark similarities in the trend showing . If Italy is unable to cope with the explosion of infections, can Malaysia deal with it?

As of 19 March, Italy has 41,035 confirmed infections, 3,405 deaths, and over 1,045 recovered. According to a recent Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) report, Italy has 3.2 hospital beds to 1,000 total population. Italian health care workers were so overwhelmed with Covid-19 cases that they could face with decisions about allocating limited life-saving treatment to those with the most likelihood to live longest upon survival.

Before the situation gets out of hand, has the Ministry of Health (MoH) started to alert medical professionals who have retired to consider helping in times of need?

The government should consider bringing in the army and imposing a total lockdown soon because the Movement Control Order was not effective. According to the Minister of Defence Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob “only 60 per cent of Malaysians comply with the 14-day restriction” and this percentage is unimpressive in a situation like this.

On 19 March, Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein was reported to have said that Malaysians returning from Indonesia after their tabligh would “undergo strict health screening and self-quarantine as required under the movement control order”. Such statement is not reassuring at all because if the 83 participants can understand and respect the need of self-quarantine, they would not have congregated in such numbers thereby violating every rule in the book to reduce the risk of contagion.

CAP would recommend forced quarantine for the duration of the 14 days upon arrival at the airport. They might be spreading the disease without exhibiting any symptoms during this period and we are concerned about the possible spread at the airport and during the flight itself. They might spread the disease to their household if they are quarantined at home.

CAP sees the window of opportunity rapidly growing smaller by the hour, approaching the tipping point of the explosion of infection and thus urges the government to implement a total lockdown, bringing in the army to restore some sanity in this desperate situation as soonest possible, not after 48 hours. There is no time to spare. We also call on doctors in private hospitals to help out in public hospitals when their help is required.

The importance of turning Pulau Jerejak into a quarantine centre should be considered because much of the northern region is urbanised or otherwise distant from logistic access. We would like to point out that had China dragged its feet in implementing such draconian measures, the number of confirmed cases would not have declined to a single digit today within a period of three months.


Press Statement / Letter to the Editor, 21 March 2020