1. By now many would have undoubtedly received a viral message which is making the rounds calling on Penangites to be prepared for an outbreak of the dreaded Covid 19 virus on the island.
2. The message, purportedly written by a specialist doctor, has warned people that a ticking time bomb is set to explode no thanks to positive cases which have been detected at the Penang Prison, a new cluster which has been dubbed as Penjara Reman by the authorities.
3. The Health Ministry yesterday revealed that seven positive cases had been detected from this cluster, with one death – that of an 85-year old remand prisoner also recorded. The victim has become the 141st Malaysian to have died from the virus in the country so far.
4. The six other patients in the Penjara Reman cluster are also Malaysians who tested positive via close contact tracing and have been admitted to the Penang Hospital for treatment. My greatest concern is that of 201 others who were tested and are awaiting results.
5. We can only keep our fingers crossed and pray that the Penjara Reman cluster is confined to just the seven who have tested positive so far and the others will test negative. More importantly we can only hope that the virus has not spread out of the prison compound through staff and others who came into contact with the positive cases.
6. The fallout of such an eventuality could be catastrophic for our beloved island, and state as well as the country as a whole. It is not just the economic impact but also the effect on society as a whole that I am most concerned about.
7. As I uploaded in another posting recently, I am also extremely worried about the management of prisoners or those whose liberty is placed under enforcement authorities like the Prisons Department, Immigration detention centres and other lock ups.
8. We have seen far too many outbreaks in such places since the pandemic started. It is time we look into what’s going on immediately before it goes out of control totally. We are not just talking about those locked up but also our frontliners, their families and the greater society as a whole here.
9. The other thing that needs to be addressed immediately is how those who were rounded up for flouting Covid 19 rules are being dealt with. I am extremely disturbed after reading about how police are cramming offenders into trucks without any regard to social distancing norms.
10. A news portal has reported how police and the Immigration Department remained insensitive to the SOPs but instead resorted to steps which can be counter productive to stem the spread of the virus.
11. The report highlighted an incident in Bangsar which has fuelled anxiety over how the arresting parties treated offenders, where over 30 people were forcibly thrust into an overcrowded truck which made physical distancing impossible. It is undeniable that the virus has created enormous challenges for our enforcers but this cannot be an excuse for them to bypass health protocols.
12. Such callous attitude is only going to cause more problems in the fight against the disease. I really hope the Inspector General of Police and the Home Ministry looks into this. It must be made clear to everyone that the SOPs are for everbody and not just for the public.