Malaysian netizens criticise senior minister Ismail Sabri for saying public failure to practice social distancing led to spike in COVID-19 cases

Malaysia’s Senior Minister for Security Ismail Sabri recently said there is still almost no compliance in physical distancing among the people, which resulted in the sharp increase in the number of COVID-19 cases daily.

In an exclusive interview with Bernama, he said that when the first Movement Control Order (MCO) was implemented in March, almost all citizens complied with standard operating procedures (SOPs) and there were barely any breach of SOPs, probably due to COVID-19 scare among the public.

Ismail Sabri said the situation however changed over time, especially when Conditional MCO was implemented, which made the public a bit more lax in following SOPs.

“Most people still obey the regulation to wear face masks, but physical distancing was almost not complied with at all. A study conducted by Universiti Teknologi MARA shows almost 95% compliance in the use of face masks and it has become a new culture, even in the villages,” he added.

Ismail Sabri noted that face masks alone without physical distancing are not enough, as advised by Health Ministry.

“It can be seen in most places such as restaurants for example, there is no physical distancing which poses danger to the public,” he said.

When asked about the increase in cases due to interstate travel, he acknowledged that there were cases due to that reason.

However, Ismail Sabri said that the largest contributors of COVID-19 cases are foreign workers in the manufacturing and construction sectors.

“We are now focusing on these problems by providing conducive housing for workers. As for the COVID-19 cases due to inter-state crossing, it is just one of the contributors but not the largest,” he commented.

Ismail Sabri said that the government can only remind people in complying with physical distancing, and action will be taken against people who fail to comply and they will be penalised by authorities.

The minister’s action who resorted to putting the blame on the public did not sit well with netizens. Many commented that the ministers and politicians should be equally blamed for failing to comply with SOPs, thus not showing a good example to the people.

One netizen commented that politicians who tested positive for COVID-19 should be blamed too as they also did not follow SOPs.

Among the ministers tested positive for COVID-19 so far are Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department (Religious Affairs) Datuk Dr Zulkifli Mohamad Al-Bakri, who tested positive on 5 October last year, followed by four ministers this month.

One user questioned the government’s plan in combating the pandemic, saying that government only “enforcing the MCO 2.0 for the sake of enforcing it” without any clear plans.

The user also asked the government on the approval of COVID-19 vaccine with another stressing that Singapore and India have started vaccinating their people.

Many commenters also brought up the Sabah state election held on 26 September last year, which allegedly caused a spike in COVID-19 cases in the state.

Netizens criticised the politicians, labelling them as “power-hungry” as they failed to follow SOPs during the state election.

The “no quarantine after coming back from Sabah” issue, believed to be the reason behind the spike in COVID-19 cases in Peninsula, was also highlighted by one commenter.

One netizen also commented that the government “plays an important role” in making sure that people observe SOPs. The leaders have to set an example in making sure that things are under control, they said.

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