DG: Strict SOP compliance in Melaka polls a must

PETALING JAYA: To avoid a potential surge in Covid-19 cases in the aftermath of the Melaka state polls, strict compliance with the standard operating procedure (SOP) is a must and hopefully no “surprise” new variants will show up, says Health director-general Tan Sri Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah.

Following the announcement by the Election Commission (EC) that Melaka will go to the polls on Nov 20 following the Oct 4 dissolution of the state legislative assembly, Dr Noor Hisham said the Health Ministry would observe the situation closely.

“We are observing closely and it all depends on the compliance with SOP and no surprises in new variants. As for the SOP for the state election, the Health Ministry will be advising the National Security Council (NSC) and it will release the SOP once they have been presented and discussed,” he said yesterday.

EC chairman Datuk Abdul Ghani Salleh also said that Covid-19 prevention guidelines for the Melaka state polls would be based on views and advice from the NSC, Health Ministry and police.

“Once finalised, it will be announced to the public immediately,” he told The Star yesterday.

The Melaka snap polls will be the first state election happening in pandemic times since the Sabah state election held in September 2020.

The Sabah polls have been highly criticised by health experts for causing the third wave of Covid-19 infections in Malaysia.

At the end of July 2020, Sabah had only 397 active Covid-19 cases but by election day on Sept 26, the state had 1,547 active cases.

Many politicians who were involved in election campaigning were criticised for travelling all over the country and skipping quarantine after their return from Sabah.

By the end of October 2020, Malaysia had a total cumulative 30,889 cases, more than double the 11,224 cumulative cases reported just a month earlier.

Medical Practitioners Coalition Association of Malaysia president Dr Raj Kumar Maharajah, however, explained that the situation in Melaka now was different because at the time of the Sabah state polls, there were no vaccines available.

“Although we had SOP in place, they were not properly followed, so all hell broke loose.

“Melaka is different, as we are moving into an endemic stage and things are more or less normal with more economic sectors opening up, so I think it’s quite safe to go on. But SOP must be followed strictly,” he said.

He suggests that voting be done in a staggered manner, adding that campaigning, which would run for 12 days, should be done online to ensure extra safety.

“If it must be done physically, SOP must be strictly adhered to where there has to be physical distancing, wearing of face masks and constant handwashing,” said Dr Raj Kumar.

He added that children should not be anywhere near election hotspots or the campaign trail in Melaka as they were unvaccinated.

Melaka has a high adult vaccination rate of 91.4% as of Oct 17.

Universiti Putra Malaysia epidemiologist and biostatistician Assoc Prof Dr Malina Osman is of the opinion that the general situation is still not fully safe for any public procedures such as an election.

Although the number of new and active cases as well as all other indicators were on a declining trend, she said it was better to wait until active cases dropped to fewer than 10,000.

Currently, active cases are still over 90,000.

Dr Malina said lessons from the Sabah state polls must be heeded so that mistakes were not repeated in the Melaka election.

Malaysian Medical Association president Dr Koh Kar Chai had also previously described having a state election now is akin to going “from the frying pan and into the fire”.

He said the vaccination programme was just beginning to bring reprieve to medical frontliners who had been tending to Covid-19 patients without a break for almost two years.

Many people, he said, believed that Malaysia was put in this current state of affairs due to the Sabah state election.

“As far as the medical fraternity is concerned, we are strongly against a state election being held at this time. At least, not till the current situation returns to near normal,” he said in a recent statement.

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