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Sunday, February 28, 2021

Sarawak’s Efforts in Tackling the Latest COVID-19 Wave

The first few weeks of January 2021 saw another spike of new COVID-19 cases in Malaysia as the country continues to confront the third wave of the pandemic.

As of 20 January 2021, the total number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the country is 169,379; out of which 127,662 have recovered, 41,087 remain active and 630 did not survive from the disease.

A health worker conducting a swab test

Sarawak, in particular, saw record-breaking numbers, with the highest number of new cases of 203 recorded on 20 January 2021. On the same day itself, the State has 2,570 confirmed cases in total, of which 204 are under investigation and 21 have died.

The latest surge affects many urban and rural districts in the State, even turning districts of Sibu, Kuching and Miri, among others, from green zones to red zones almost overnight.

Sarawak refers to green zones as districts with zero locally transmitted cases in the last 14 days; yellow zones between one to 20; orange zones between 21 to 40; and red zones at 41 and above.

To contain further spread of the disease and to turn Sarawak back to becoming a green zone, the Sarawak Government is carrying out several preventive measures.

Many were used before – and rather effectively, making Sarawak a role model state in Malaysia in terms of controlling the pandemic – and are being adapted to the changing COVID-19 situation in the State.

Movement Control Order

At the time of writing, the Sarawak Government has placed the entire State, except Sibu Division, under a conditional movement control order (CMCO). The CMCO began on 18 January 2021 and is expected to end on 31 January 2021.

Sibu Town. Sibu Division is placed under the MCO from 16 to 29 January 2021

In announcing this, Deputy Chief Minister and Chairman of Sarawak Disaster Management Committee (SDMC) YB Datuk Amar Douglas Uggah Embas said that the decision was made due to the increase of COVID-19 cases across Sarawak over the past few days.

Prior to this, Sibu Division was placed under the movement control order (MCO) by the Malaysian Government from 16 to 29 January 2021.

This followed a spike in the number of COVID-19 cases in the division, which primarily came from the Pasai Cluster that involved longhouses in Pasai Siong and its surrounding areas.

Travel Restrictions

Under the CMCO, travel between zones in Sarawak – namely Kuching (Kuching, Samarahan and Serian Divisions), Sri Aman (Sri Aman Division), Sarikei (Sarikei and Betong Divisions), Mukah (Mukah Division), Kapit (Kapit Division), Bintulu (Bintulu Division), Miri (Miri Division) and Limbang (Limbang Division) – are not permitted unless there is a need for essential services or travel is approved with permit by the police.

Flights into Sarawak are being restricted to reduce the number of imported COVID-19 cases

The Sarawak Government has also reduced the number of flights entering the State from 16 January 2021.

According to Minister of Transport Sarawak YB Datuk Lee Kim Shin, this is due to the spike in COVID-19 cases, the implementation of CMCO and MCO, and the limited number of hotel rooms available for quarantine purposes, among other reasons.

He advised the public who wished to travel out of the State to view the latest flight schedule that was approved by the State Ministry of Transport through social media and at https://mot.sarawak.gov.my/ before booking or purchasing their flight tickets.

Border Security

The ongoing Ops Benteng in Sarawak that aims to curb the spread of COVID-19 by those entering the State illegally, as well as to prevent cross-border crimes such as smuggling and human trafficking, is further strengthened as COVID-19 cases continue to rise.

As part of Ops Benteng, roadblocks are set up at strategic locations to prevent illegal immigrants from entering the State

Sarawak Police Commissioner Datuk Aidi Ismail said in a statement on 14 January 2021 that the operation involves patrols at the State’s borders and roadblocks at strategic locations.

To further beef up border security, the Sarawak Government through the State Border Security Committee (SBSC) will collaborate with SDMC to secure allocation for the procurement of machinery and equipment that are necessary for enforcement agencies to carry out more aggressive monitoring at international borders.

Rigorous Testing

Effective 16 January 2021, all travellers that wish to enter Sarawak are required to apply through enterSarawak beforehand (https://entersarawak.socoe.co/register).

Attached with their enterSarawak application is their COVID-19 swab test result, which must be negative. To obtain this, they are required to undergo rT-PCR COVID-19 test three days or 72 hours before entering the State.

Travellers may refer to https://sarawakdisastermc.com/ for more information on entry to Sarawak at this time.

Despite the Ministry of Health (MOH) Malaysia’s recent directive to test only those that show symptoms of COVID-19, the Sarawak Government, following discussions with the State Health Department, continues to screen all close contacts of COVID-19 cases, be they symptomatic or asymptomatic.

This, along with assistance of private labs and the Health Department, ensures that the Government is able to conduct rigorous testing in curbing the disease.

Vaccine Management Task Force

In preparation for the arrival of the COVID-19 vaccines and the planning of the inoculation programme in Sarawak, SDMC has set up a taskforce to ensure all Sarawakians are given the vaccines.

Speaking on the matter in December 2020, Datuk Amar Douglas Uggah said the taskforce would assist the State Health Department to assess the readiness of the infrastructure and logistics in the State in accommodating the vaccines.

Within a month of its formation, the taskforce is expected to present its report to the Sarawak Government on the matter.

Army Spc. Angel Laureano holds a vial of the COVID-19 vaccine, Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, Bethesda, Md., Dec. 14, 2020. (DoD photo by Lisa Ferdinando)

The taskforce is led by former State Health Directors and public health experts Prof Datuk Dr Andrew Kiyu and Dr Jamilah Hashim, together with current State Health Director Dr Chin Zin Hing and his team.

Public Compliance

For the time being, the Sarawak Government is urging the public to abide by the standard operating procedures (SOPs) as outlined by MOH, such as washing or sanitising hands regularly, wearing a face mask in public places and staying at home as much as possible.

It has also released SOPs for the upcoming Chinese New Year and Chap Goh Mei celebrations, which can be viewed at the Ministry of Local Government and Housing Sarawak website (https://mlgh.sarawak.gov.my/).

At the same website, the public can view lists of locations that were visited by infected COVID-19 patients in the State since mid-December, including workplaces, restaurants and premises where leisure and social activities took place.

A COVID-19 awareness infographic by the Ministry of Health Malaysia

The Sarawak Government initiative to release these data to the public, which is a break away from the Federal Government practice, is implemented under the State’s Protection of Public Health Ordinance 1999.

Under this ordinance that encompasses the law in relation with public health in Sarawak, the Sarawak Government can conduct investigation related to infectious disease and monitor people’s mobility from an infected area.

An eyewitness to Sarawak’s transformation

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