By John Isaac
THE Malaysian Medical Association (MMA) has voiced opposition to any plan to hold the Sarawak state election soon after 80% of the state’s population have been inoculated against Covid-19.
MMA president Dr Subramaniam Muniandy said the emergence of new variants of the virus had left health experts unsure as to the percentage of the population that must be fully vaccinated before a territory could be said to have achieved herd immunity.
He told FMT a high prevalence of the Delta strain might mean a bigger percentage of the population would have to be immunised.
Sarawak is aiming to vaccinate 70% of its 2.08 million population by August and it has been reported that it would reopen its economy once 80% of the people were immunised.
Khairy Jamaluddin, the minister in charge of the immunisation programme, said last month that there was a need to speed up vaccination in Sarawak because the law required the state to have its polls within 60 days of the end of the state of emergency, which is expected to be on Aug 1.
Subramaniam said the health ministry must be “absolutely certain” that it would be safe to allow the election.
“The decision has to be based on solid current scientific data on the state’s Covid-19 situation,” he said.
“The state should prepare for any eventuality, but it is more important for it to take all necessary steps to prevent a spike in Covid-19 cases.
“To be safe, events which will see crowds, like political rallies, should be avoided.”
Bandar Kuching MP Dr Kelvin Yii told FMT he believed this year would not be the right time for the state polls, citing a recent outbreak of cases in the state capital involving the Delta mutation.
He suggested that the polls be postponed to next year to allow for observation of the full effects of the vaccines and the spread of variants of concern.
There must also be electoral reforms to ensure a safe voting process, he said. “This includes postal voting for Sarawakians living outside Sarawak. Their right to vote should not be denied or hindered even during a pandemic.
“The necessary reforms must be in place to give them their right to vote safely.”
Former deputy health minister Dr Lee Boon Chye told FMT it should be safe for the state election to be held once herd immunity was achieved.
“However, the Election Commission and state government must lay out plans for a safe state election,” he said.
Subramaniam spoke against allowing fully vaccinated Sarawakians living in other states to fly back to cast their votes, saying vaccine certifications should not be used as a licence to vote.
“Any unvaccinated person will still need to be tested and quarantined as part of the SOPs for any approved interstate travel,” he said.
The Sarawak state assembly’s term ended on June 6 but the state government will continue to function until Aug 1 by virtue of the declaration of emergency.
The deputy speaker of the state assembly, Gerawat Gala, has said the King could extend the emergency only for Sarawak so that the election could be put off indefinitely.