Sarawak Elections Or Curb Covid-19? — Dr Arvinder Singh HS

I STILL can’t believe it. In the midst of battling this current wave of Covid-19, we still have politicians calling for local elections, especially in Sarawak.

This is absolutely uncalled for.

I have summarised a few points that will help with the understanding why we should be worried. To help illustrate this, I will use the aid of a graph that I have adapted from (reference lines added by yours truly).

The graph depicts the number of cases that we are seeing in our country on a day-to-day basis. The green line represents the day that most people started to travel to Sabah. The red line is the day of the state election and the purple line shows the earliest possible day of completed incubation of the virus among those infected.

Now this might be rough numbers but let’s look at this from a bigger perspective.

– With many people possibly carrying this virus without having symptoms (asymptomatic), many would have brought this virus to Sabah from their respective states. We can also think about it as the day many people who arrived started to get exposed to the virus.

– We must remember that many people would have gone to work at that time as there was a window of opportunity for income (little did many expect it to be the window period of spread as well).

– With many now coming back to their hometowns and visiting others, the day of the election had possibly the highest number of people being in Sabah and a heavy day as far as travel was concerned.

– This included workers who were helping with polling, the voters and people who again saw this as a window of financial opportunity.

– The day of the election and the next day meant travelling home after voting. Again crowding and a window of opportunity not only for those who saw a chance to earn some income but also for the virus.

Now in that chronological order, let us extract salient points to consider if Sarawak has a physical polling day.

– With a call of polls in the biggest state in Malaysia, we are going to get high movement of individuals from other states into Sarawak.

– Yes, Sarawak has a 14-day quarantine period, but remember these people have a chance of contracting the disease in Sarawak and bringing it with them to other states.

– Also, movement in the state among Sarawakians, especially from the urban areas to the rural areas, might also see a movement of the virus.

– Polling day – the high movement between individuals, the contact that people will have, especially among those who might be carrying the virus is worrying. Just look at the graph and the numbers after six to 10 days from polling day.

– With no compulsory quarantine imposed like they did with Sabah, are we again risking another wave of Covid-19 before this current one is resolved? The worrying bit is not only the infection rate but the introduction/re-introduction of the virus into the vulnerable groups.

– When there is a high number of cases, especially in areas where healthcare facilities are not optimal in geographically challenged areas – the risk of having higher deaths due to late presentations must be expected. Also, the reach of medical aid to such communities will be a challenge.

– With so much of hard work put in Sarawak, especially with their Covid-19 task force, are we ready to combat a wave that could be more catastrophic than that of Sabah?

– Let’s not forget that we are excluding the possible high density residencies in the state, especially in longhouses and communities where living together in large numbers is the norm.

– Also, we are overlooking contact tracing capabilities in such areas. Can all the houses be QR-coded before the election? Can we ensure that Sarawakians, especially the rural folk will comply? What about internet connection/connectivity for the rural folk?

Please note that I have not even begun to talk about politicians who might travel extensively to campaign. And don’t get me started on the quarantine that they must adhere to after that.

The truth is, we are not ready to have another seat/state by-election, neither are we ready for a general election.

Let’s bite the bullet now and not have the election. Unless, an e-voting system can be rolled out in time for this.

Then again, how will the rural folk be counted for their voting? Thus, it is highly important that the building of infrastructure – healthcare, administration, internet/multimedia facilities – be focused on East Malaysia.

This upcoming November 2 Dewan Rakyat sitting must see a bipartisan proposal and support to not have any polls until the Covid-19 situation is curbed.

Leaders, please let us for once stand up and acknowledge that there is something bigger to the situation – the health and well-being of our rakyat.

Leaders, stand up now and be accountable to the people.

Sarawak, stand up and account yourself for the well-being of not only the people of Sarawak, but also the 32 million fellow Malaysians.

Do not put before Malaysians a choice of practicing their constitutional rights and their well-being.

#ThinkWisely #KitaJagaKita #RakyatJagaRakyat

Dr Arvinder Singh HS is a medical officer (research) at the Institute of Clinical Research Malaysia with a special interest in mental health, infectious diseases, diabetes, occupational health, sports medicine and shockwave therapy.