Putrajaya announces task force to track down, bring back Malaysians in Hubei province

Health Minister Datuk Seri Dzulkefly Ahmad speaks to reporters during the Health Ministry’s daily press briefing in Putrajaya January 30, 2020. — Picture by Shafwan Zaidon
Health Minister Datuk Seri Dzulkefly Ahmad speaks to reporters during the Health Ministry’s daily press briefing in Putrajaya January 30, 2020. — Picture by Shafwan Zaidon

PUTRAJAYA, Jan 30 — The Health Ministry (MoH) announced today it has formed a special task force to locate and bring back Malaysians currently still in China’s Hubei province as the 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) outbreak continues to spread.

The task force, called the Special Committee for Humanitarian Assistance, will work with the Foreign Ministry, National Disaster Management Agency (Nadma), National Security Council and local carriers Malaysia Airlines and AirAsia.

“This committee is tasked with identifying and scrutinising what we need to do to bring back Malaysians currently residing in Hubei, China.

“A technical committee will be formed within this task force to arrange travel plans for the safe return of our people,” said Health Minister Datuk Seri Dzulkefly Ahmad during his daily briefing on the situation here.

“The Foreign Ministry is in the process of ascertaining the number of Malaysians still in China, so we know how many are to return here. Meanwhile, we are engaged in ongoing discussions with our Chinese counterparts to aid us in this endeavour,” added Dzulkelfy.

However, he said the government still does not have a final time frame for the operation as it is still under discussion.

Dzulkefly also said there are plans to add an additional 25 thermal scanners at entry points to Malaysia so authorities can scan everyone who passes through the entry points. Currently, only Chinese nationals are being screened.

“We are planning to make sure all entry points, be it land or sea, are checked. We have 61 entry points in Malaysia, and we are getting 25 additional thermal-scanning units. Besides that, we also have laser thermometers or temperature guns that can also scan people for fever.

“For now, Chinese nationals have a special lane when they check in and there are no changes to the SOP. At the moment, there are six cameras in Johor and we will add two more soon,” he said, using the abbreviation for standard operating procedure.

To date, there are eight Chinese nationals infected with novel coronavirus in Malaysia. Three cases were from Patient Under Investigation (PUI) while the remainder five contracted the virus due to close contact.

The latest case is the wife of one of the patients who was confirmed to have the coronavirus on January 29, 2020. Health workers examined 89 PUIs from January 10 to 29, resulting in 81 being cleared, five still under observation and three confirmed infections.

The ministry has also identified 32 people who have been in close contact with the infected and placed them under compulsory observation and isolation. The entire group is in stable condition and 27 have already tested negative for the 2019-nCoV.

When asked if today’s infected person was down to human-to-human contact, Dzulkefly said that is hard to determine.

“That’s hard to answer because we don’t know if the infection happened earlier in Wuhan itself before she came to Singapore or here.

“Because the symptoms are asymptomatic, where exactly they picked it up is difficult to determine. You’d have to be in close contact for a long time to get it, but we can’t draw a conclusion for this.

“Bear in mind that the virus is dormant, and incubation is for 14 days. This person was in Malaysia on the 23rd and today’s the 30th so that’s a week only. So if she got it here or in Wuhan is still undetermined.

“However, we are in the process of learning fast and gathering all the information we can on this virus to better understand it and tackle the problem,” added Dzulkefly.

Apart from that, MoH said it is working closely with the Education Ministry to identify students, teachers and lecturers who are returning from China and those identified will be placed under home surveillance and issued health warning cards as well as home assessment tools.

All Malaysians planning to go to China have been urged to postpone their plans until further notice.

This morning, China confirmed that its death toll from the 2019-nCoV epidemic has risen to 170 while the number of verified infections grew to 7,711.

Global health officials will meet today to discuss possibly declaring an international health emergency, after the virus continued appearing in new locations despite efforts to contain it in Wuhan that is believed to be the source.

The 2019-nCoV has now been confirmed in 20 countries spanning Asia, Europe, the Middle East and North America.

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