As Malaysia faces the challenging situation of the COVID-19 pandemic, Malaysian Housing and Local Government Minister Zuraida Kamaruddin has been slammed for wearing a full white personal protective equipment (PPE) suit during a public disinfection exercise.
State media, The Star, reported that the country has began a nationwide disinfection operation on Monday (30 March), while some local authorities have started to disinfect high risk areas of COVID-19 as part of efforts to curb the spread of coronavirus.
In the video published by The Star, Ms Zuraida was seen involved in a disinfection exercise carried out at a local state, equipping herself in full protecting gear and surrounded by a team of personnel.
Former deputy Health DG Datuk Dr Lokman Hakim Sulaiman has lambasted Minister Zuraida Kamaruddin over a publicity stunt that put many people at risk of #Covid19 infection, while wasting public funds.
— The Star (@staronline) March 31, 2020
BFM News posted another video showing Ms Zuraida holding a hosepipe with the help of personnel and spraying disinfectant on the sideways.
Sanitisation and cleaning exercises began today at 6 areas identified as Covid-19 red zones. They are Lembah Pantai, Petaling, Hulu Langat, Seremban, Johor Baharu & Kluang.
Housing and Local Government Minister Zuraida Kamaruddin was part of the exercise in Sungai Ramal, Kajang pic.twitter.com/8IC9qVMCdQ
— BFM News (@NewsBFM) March 30, 2020
Health expert and politicians condemn Zuraida’s participation over “publicity bliss” and cause a shortage of PPE suits
Following this, Malaysian health experts and politicians voiced their concerns and skepticism over the minister’s participation in disinfection exercise.
The former deputy Health Director-General Dr Lokman Hakim Sulaiman criticised the move of Ms Zuraida as a “publicity bliss” which will put public lives at stake while condemning the authorities for wasting money, reported in New Straits Times.
“Look at the crowd. This publicity bliss is already putting many people at risk,” said Dr Lokman, adding, “What a waste, the money spent could well be used for other more meaningful purposes, for example, for hospital staff who are preparing their own PPE.”
Dr Lokman also questioned the move of spraying disinfectant on the roads, saying, “Even if road surfaces are contaminated, how could they get to your face? By people scrubbing their hands on the contaminated road surfaces and touching their faces?”
While condemning Ms Zuraida of “seek[ing] cheap publicity” during this crucial period, Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) Johor Baru MP Akmal Nasrullah Md Nasir said that her participation will contribute to the issue of PPE shortage nationwide, reported in The Star.
Mr Akmal said, “She should skip the stunts so that her PPE and the officers can be used to support our frontliners.”
“The minister, who is not involved as a frontliner, will also cause a waste of resources in government hospitals, which are facing shortages of PPEs,” said Mr Akmal. “In fact, some officers are even forced to use plastic bags as PPE to carry out their duties.”
Earlier, it was reported that Malaysian doctors and nurses who are stationed in the frontlines are seen utilising regular bin liners and cling wraps to replace the actual gear due to a shortage of proper PPE.
Photos circulated online showing medical personnel in DIY-ed gear to protect themselves from being infected when they carry out a test on patients for COVID-19.
A proper set of PPE includes surgical caps, face shields, gloves, gowns, boot covers and N95 masks. There is currently a shortage of these in Malaysia, as reported by Malay Mail. Doctors and nurses have told the press that they were left with no choice but to resort to DIY gear because their hospitals have run out of supplies while patients kept coming in.
Minister Zuraida rationalises spraying disinfectant at more areas; Malaysian Health DG asked authorities to follow SOP
In response to the criticism, Ms Zuraida explained that spraying disinfectant at more places is better than to miss some areas as there is no accurate information on how COVID-19 spreads.
“So, if we spray the roads, it is not an issue because we cannot miss anything…I think it is better to be careful and spray more places and to cover fewer places. This is just a precaution, if they think spraying on roads is just a waste of money,” she said, reported Malaysiakini.
Separately, Malaysian Health Director-General Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah also responded that recent disinfection operations were carried out before the Health Ministry could provide guidelines.
Therefore, he said the ministry will advise the local authorities to follow the guidelines before conducting disinfection operation.
“We thank and welcome the initiatives taken by the authorities on the disinfection programmes, but they should follow the ministry’s standard operating procedures (SOP). We will advise what needs to be done and what to avoid,” he said.
Netizens displeased over publicity stunt, ask Minister to pay respect to frontliners
The “stunt” of Ms Zuraida also drew flak from the netizens with many venting their frustrations and disappointment on social media.
Most of the netizens denounced the unnecessary stunt of the ministers as a waste of PPE which are most needed by the frontliners. Some netizens also blamed the Minister for not complying with the government’s measures against COVID-19 such as social distancing and the Movement Restriction Order (MCO).
Oh my. Pls don't waste precious PPE unnecessarily.
Why is @ybz99 Zuraida wearing PPE? Nobody else is. And why are there so many people there not practising social distancing? @DGHisham maybe MOH needs to advise some ministers. Leaders should lead by example. @MuhyiddinYassin https://t.co/ie9Mrs94yo
— Saloma Kassim (@Boingoof) March 30, 2020
Zuraida wearing PPE is pure stupid act of propaganda https://t.co/PwkKL8qlow
— w.scherbatsky (@sxuuuuuu) March 30, 2020
This Zuraida is a disappoinment. Wasting PPE just for publicity stunt. She even got MENTERI written on her forehead. Evil clown. https://t.co/MG8gtfkztg
— Nadd (@banananadd) March 31, 2020
Commenting on the Facebook page of The Star, netizens said that the minister should contribute differently, such as work out a plan against COVID-19 or offer free food to frontliners instead of wasting PPE for a publicity gimmick.
Dennis Kuek wrote that the MCO should apply to all the citizens including public figures “who do not have anything valuable to contribute” while asking them to not increase the burden of frontliners.
On the other hand, a few netizens expressed their different stances where they applauded the effort of the Minister for trying to experience the hardship of frontliners and felt that this is a non-issue. “For anyone to say it is, is using the pandemic to attack a political opponent,” one netizen opined.