Revisit initial strategies

Senator Robert Lau

KUCHING: The strategies devised in the initial stage of the fight of Covid-19 have to be revisited to curb the spread of the virus effectively, said Senator Robert Lau.

He said currently, the virus was affecting communities in the urban and rural areas and compliance with standard operating procedures (SOPs) such as wearing masks, regular hand washing, and physical distancing was still low.

He added today that Covid-19 was spreading within communities due to crowded living, working space, detention centres, workplace, schools and cramped accommodation as well as gatherings.

Lau pointed out cases of the virus spreading through retail shops, cafes and by those returning from abroad were fewer than those spread locally. 

The Sarawak United People’s Party (SUPP) Bawang Assan branch chairman said the pandemic was affecting badly the livelihoods of the lower end of the society (B40) and vast majority of those staying in the rural areas. 

On the current weaknesses, he said the test results were still slow for places outside Kuching, with samples having to be sent to Kuching or Kuala Lumpur.

Two to three days were needed before the results were known. Only positive cases were notified while those with negative results were usually not informed or informed very late.

“This is valuable time lost, making the effort to trace and quarantine less effective. Thus, private labs should be brought in to assist. Red tapes for getting the private labs running should be relaxed and not enhanced.

“It still takes months to get a lab approved by the Ministry of Health (MOH) even when all equipment is tested, ready and the staffs are trained,” he said.

Lau said the second weakness was on enforcement.

“There are still reports of daily compounds and as such, the increase in fines is not a deterrent. 

“We should enforce in areas where breaches occur most frequently and have the most adverse consequences. Most enforcement and compound issues were in urban public areas like retail shops, restaurants and coffee shops where the risk of spread was not as high as those of gatherings.

“The enforcement should concentrate on community gatherings where all the three important SOPs are usually not followed,” he said.

Lau added that the rollout of the vaccination was still slow and had to be sped up by bringing in the private sector to assist.

He said Sarawakians returning to the state should be asked to pay for their own hotels.

“The number of cases picked up from this group compared to the amount of money spent and the large numbers of workforce employed in guarding these hotels is disproportionate.

“Now, almost all the virus cases are from and within the community. The fund should be channelled to more critical areas such as hiring temporary health, enforcement and management staff. Some funds should also be used to beef up healthcare equipment at all hospitals, especially in smaller towns.

“I said ‘should’ because even though healthcare is under the federal jurisdiction, the federal government is short of funds and slow with procurement. Further, Sarawak has been short-changed in terms of healthcare budget allocation under MOH.

“The political debate on the return of autonomy on healthcare should continue but should not be the main focal point now and distract the fight against the virus,” he pointed out.

On the issue of whether to lock down Sarawak or not, Lau pointed out that for a lockdown to work,   two things were needed, namely full compliance by all the people and strict enforcement to ensure full compliance and, at the same time, ensuring there were no imported cases.

“If these two steps cannot be done realistically, we should continue and enhance the enforcement on compliance with the SOPs, improve our healthcare system and speed up vaccination.

“Strict enforcement of the SOPs is still a must if we are to reduce the spread. People’s attitude will be harder to change but change we all must. Leaders must lead by example,” he said.

Lau added that since vaccine could only slow the rate of infection and mitigate the effect of the illness, the people must learn to live with it.

“Countries that are doing well in fighting the virus in their society cannot forever close their borders. We all have to do our part individually as well as collectively. How the virus impacts us depends on how everyone acts.

“How well a society does is directly linked to how we all act as a whole, economically, socially, environmentally and now pertaining to our own health,” he explained.