DPM: Protest may spread virus

Closely monitored: Protestors sitting in a street near Dataran Merdeka while being watched by cops. — IZZRAFIQ ALIAS/The Star

KUALA LUMPUR: Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob has expressed concern over the health risk of the #Lawan rally in the city centre here amid the high number of Covid-19 cases in the Klang Valley.

“I am worried about the participants’ safety after they gathered in large numbers. Even if just one of them catches the infection, it could be brought home.

“The cases might spread further as a result of the rally,” he told a press conference after visiting the Axiata Arena Bukit Jalil vaccination centre (PPV) yesterday.

His comments followed an anti-government protest at the intersection between Jalan Raja Laut and Jalan Tun Perak by a group of black-clad, mostly young people, with some of them waving black flags, earlier yesterday.

They had wanted to gather at Dataran Merdeka but could not after the police cordoned off the area.

Ismail Sabri, who is also Defence Minister, said the government was willing to listen to the voices and views of all parties at any time, and not only when they were voiced out during street protests.

He also urged all politicians to set aside their differences and work together to overcome the pandemic in the country.

“Regardless of our party affiliations, we should focus on the problems of Covid-19, which are bigger than what is being voiced out today. Forget about the war in politics,” he said.

In Larut, Perak, Home Minister Datuk Seri Hamzah Zainudin said action would be taken against those who breached Covid-19 movement restrictions during the demonstration.

He labelled public figures who had encouraged the people to hold demonstrations as “instigators”.

“Some netizens who criticised the government for allowing factory workers to get back to work were ironically the ones inciting the demonstrators,” he told reporters after a food aid programme.

In Kuala Lumpur, Dang Wangi OCPD Asst Comm Mohamad Zainal Abdullah said the protestors could expect to be called up by the police.

He noted that while the participants had worn face masks, it was not easy for them to observe physical distancing.

“We are still under the movement control order. Public assemblies are not allowed,” he told reporters.

He said that about 300 police personnel were at the scene to control the situation.

“The group initially planned on having the assembly at Dataran Merdeka but we cordoned it off so they held their gathering along Jalan Tun Perak.

“Based on our investigations, the organisers were the same people behind the black flag convoy (protest) on July 24,” he said.

ACP Mohamad Zainal said they would call the organisers and participants up at a later date, and action could be brought under the Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases Act.

The protesters had marched towards Dataran Merdeka around 11.30am. They dispersed after being ordered to do so by ACP Mohamad Zainal at around 12.30pm.

Meanwhile, medical experts, too, are concerned that the actions of parties in organising and participating in rallies or demonstrations might worsen the pandemic n the country.

Malaysian Public Health Physicians’ Association president Datuk Dr Zainal Ariffin Omar said this was especially so when the Klang Valley was a hotspot for the spread of new Covid-19 cases.

“In a demonstration situation, it is very difficult for them (participants) to practise physical distancing and wear a face masks all the time, and there is also the possibility that they will share a drink container and more.

“So with new Covid-19 variants such as Delta, which is highly contagious, and a mass gathering somewhere... there can be the possibility of new transmissions,” he said.

Dr Zainal Ariffin said based on statistics as at July 28, a total of 199 Delta variant cases had been reported in the country.

“Taking into account this factor, it is very logical for the authorities not to allow any mass gatherings.

“Any party involved should still be able to voice their opinions through other platforms that are more appropriate, including the use of social media,” he added.

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