Dr Dzul panned for creating undue public alarm over Covid-19

PETALING JAYA: Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad has been panned by colleague Tourism, Arts and Culture Minister Datuk Seri Tiong King Sing for triggering unnecessary panic over Covid-19.

Tiong said to balance the country’s economic and tourism recovery, the Health Ministry is urged to be more careful in giving out information pertinent to Covid-19 so that it does not incite public alarm.

He said this following Dzulkefly's special press conference held last week to address the rising Covid-19 caseloads, which Tiong claimed had affected Malaysia’s tourism and economy, besides causing public alarm ahead of the Christmas and New Year holidays.

“How nice would it be if we don’t trigger unnecessary panic, such as by reporting daily Covid-19 cases, because it can create unreasonable fear.

“True, it is important to raise awareness and intensify prevention measures, but not until the level of overreacting and creating a situation of panic.

“The Health Minister’s serious attention towards the latest developments of the virus can be understood but I hope he can consider the effects on the country’s economy, including fears that it will affect the influx of tourists into Malaysia.

“I’m confident that the Health Minister can accurately assess the situation while avoiding unnecessary misunderstanding,” he said in a statement on his Facebook page on Sunday (Dec 24).

He added that Malaysia should draw examples on how other countries were handling the outbreak and note the cautious approaches being taken.

“For example, the announcement about the situation in the country by our Health Minister is almost the same as the statement by the Indonesian Health Minister.

“However, the Indonesian Minister stressed that the situation for the coming Christmas and New Year's season is not too worrying, in contrast to the announcement in Malaysia which is seen to cause public anxiety.

“Comparing the statements of the health ministers of the two countries easily creates the impression that Malaysia is much more dangerous than Indonesia.

“This may cause tourists to avoid visiting Malaysia and choose neighboring Indonesia, further causing economic losses to Malaysia,” he said.

Tiong said that while Covid-19 is an important public health issue that cannot be “swept under the carpet”, there was no need to overreact and worsen the situation.

“It’s important for us to avoid creating fear and creating a negative perception of Malaysia, especially the tourism sector, as well as harming the national economy.

“I am making this appeal based on the concerns and complaints expressed by both the tourism industry and the public,” he said.

Tiong added that he had also been informed that foreign tour operators have canceled their travel schedules to Malaysia due to concerns over the rising Covid-19 cases in the country.

He however said that many other countries have been affected by the latest wave of the virus with a corresponding surge in cases and there was therefore no need to “exaggerate and mislead the public that the epidemic in Malaysia is very serious.”

Tiong also said that he would be raising the concern in the Cabinet meeting to find a balanced solution that will ensure the virus is controlled without affecting the tourism sector.

He added that based on observations by experts, the new JN.1 Covid-19 strain is said to be able to evade the immune system and be more highly transmissible compared to other strains but do not cause more severe symptoms.

It also does not currently overburden the global health system, Tiong noted.

“I must remind that every step in the prevention and control of Covid-19 must be discussed comprehensively regarding its effects backed by the appropriate research and study besides avoiding hasty, immature actions that can affect stakeholders and be exploited by opportunist individuals, thus causing a loss to the country’s economy,” said Tiong.

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