Media Statement by Dr. Ong Kian Ming, Member of Parliament for Bangi and Assistant Political Education Director for the Democratic Action Party (DAP) and Dr. Kelvin Yii, Member of Parliament for Bandar Kuching and Member of the Health, Science and Innovation Parliamentary Special Select Committee, issued on the 16th of April 2021

10 Questions for YB Khairy Jamaluddin, Coordinating Minister for the National COVID19 Vaccination Program (PICK)

In the leadup to the start of Phase 2 of the National COVID19 Vaccination Program or otherwise known as PICK in BM, there are many questions which need to be asked and hopefully answered. We commend the job which the Coordinating Minister has carried out thus far under challenging circumstances. We hope that he can respond to the following 10 questions as Phase 2 of PICK starts on Monday, the 19th of April, 2021.

1.What is the geographical distribution of those above 60 who have yet to register for the COVID19 vaccine?

The Minister has stated previously that due to the lower than expected vaccine registration rates among those who are 60 and above, Phase 3 registrants will be vaccinated together with those who are scheduled for vaccination under Phase 2. He was also reported as saying, on the 29th of March, 2021, that only two million senior citizens have registered for Phase 2 of the vaccination program representing only 22% of the target.[1] This means there are approximately 7 million senior citizens who have yet to register for the vaccine.

At the time of writing, we don’t know which states/districts they may possibly be located in.

This would be useful information for us to know so that more targeted efforts can be used in order to get more senior citizens to be registered for the vaccine.

2. What steps have been taken to work with state governments in order to increase the vaccine registration rate?

State governments have access to some data for those who are aged 60 and above. For example, in Selangor, those who are 60 and above are eligible to be registered under the Skim Mesra Usia Emas (SMUE)[2]. In Penang, there is the senior citizen’s acknowledgment program in which all senior citizens above 60 are eligible.[3] As far as we know, there has not been any concerted effort to work with the state governments such as Selangor and Penang to mobilize the state government machinery, the elected representatives, and NGOs to register these senior citizens based on existing databases.

Of course, the state governments can mobilize on their own without any initiation on the part of the federal government but given that the federal government is taking the lead on this program, it would be very helpful and perhaps even necessary for the federal government to take the initiative, give the endorsement for and cooperate with the respective state governments to take the necessary actions to register as many senior citizens as possible for the COVID19 vaccine.

3.Will the two week notice for vaccine takers which was initially promised by the Minister be followed? What other measures can be used to reach out to those who haven’t confirmed their appointments via their MySejahtera app?

The Minister promised, on the 29th of March, 2021 that those who have their vaccination appointments during Phase 2 of PICK will be given a 2 week notification via the MySejahtera application, phone calls, and SMS. Anecdotal evidence thus far seems to indicate that many people have not received any notifications yet via one or more of the channels indicated by the Minister. [4] Many people are feeling anxious and are checking their MySejahtera app regularly either for themselves or for their dependents/parents (Dr. Ong registered his mother as his dependent but has yet to receive any notification of the date of vaccination. Dr. Ong helped his father register via his own MySejahtera app and according to the JKJAV website[5], his appointment is still pending). At the other end of the scale are those senior citizens who are not technology savvy and probably had someone else register them for the COVDI 19 vaccine and who have yet to respond to their MySejahtera and/or SMS notification. The Minister indicated as much when it was reported on the 12th of April that more than half of those initially notified have not responded to confirm their appointment dates.[6]

We need to understand the reasons for the low response rate if we are to increase the positive response rate. Other than not being tech-savvy, the issue of some senior citizens not being able to read and understand BM could also be another reason. Solutions such as voice messages, in more than one language, could be used moving forward.

4.Has the list of vaccination centers been confirmed? Will they be published soon?

At the time of writing, the full list of vaccination locations by the state for Phase 2 of PICK has not been publicly announced yet.

Although each person will be given the clinic / exact location of where they will receive their vaccination, it would be useful if the full list of vaccination locations are published so that those who have their doubts about the location can refer to a verified list. This should include private clinics and hospitals which have signed up to be part of the vaccination program.

5.Will there be translations for senior citizens who may not be very well-versed in BM? Will other assistance also be provided for those who are illiterate?

The process of vaccination will be challenging for those senior citizens who are illiterate, hard of hearing, have bad eyesight and/or are not so well-versed in BM. There are many forms to be completed, apps to be scanned and also one briefing to listen to. It would not be surprising to us if some senior citizens find the entire process too stressful and this may affect their physical health before, during and after taking the vaccine. Hopefully, at each of the vaccination locations, such issues would have already been considered and sufficient steps are undertaken to minimize the stress for the senior citizens.

6.Do we have sufficient manpower to increase the number of vaccinations per day for four-fold from 40,000 per day to 160,000 per day?

During Phase 1 of PICK, the average number of daily vaccinations was less than 40,000. The target for Phase 2 is 160,000 per day. Do we have the capacity in terms of nurses and doctors to ramp up to this number? Even with the inclusion of private GPs and hospitals in the vaccination process?

7.Are there any contingency plans in place to have “volunteers” to be vaccinated in case those who are confirmed their registration do not show up?

One would expect there to be some absenteeism among those who have confirmed their appointments based on the experience of other countries. The strategy or SOP in many of these countries is to have a queuing system or database where people can be informed if there are leftover vaccines that must be used before they expire in case there are people who do not show up for their appointments.

As far as we know, there is no such system in place in Malaysia. But we feel that this is a necessary step in the vaccination process so that vaccine wastage can be minimized.

8. How will the supply of COVID19 be affected by continued uncertainties?

The Minister has said that we have sufficient supplies of COVID19 vaccines to cover more than 80% of the population (including foreign workers), which is the percentage needed to achieve herd immunity.[7] But there remain outstanding concerns with regards to the authorisation of the SPUTNIK vaccine by NPRA (very few countries seemed to have authorized its usage) and also ongoing concerns on the small risk of developing blood clots via the Astra Zeneca vaccine which have made some countries like Denmark stop the use of the AZ vaccine (at least for now).

What contingency plans does the Minister have in order to address some of these issues with regards to the supply of some of these vaccines? Will there be any further delays in the supply of some of these vaccines because of vaccine nationalism on the part of the EU and India?

9.Can vaccination be made compulsory? Is this constitutional? What other methods can be used e.g. vaccine passport and allowance for activities?

The Minister was reported to have said, on the 9th of April, that vaccine registration could be made compulsory if the numbers of vaccine registrations remain low.[8] Is this legal and constitutional? We take note that even taking the BCG vaccine jabs are not compulsory for kids who go to school. Can vaccine registration and later vaccine inoculation be made compulsory?

Surely other incentives such as allowing those who have been vaccinated to do certain activities e.g. vaccine passports should be considered before a move for compulsory vaccination be made.

10.How effective and efficient is the COVID19 call center? Does it require more resources in terms of more callers who can speak different languages to call up those whose appointments are upcoming? Can we utilize technology such as chatbots and Artificial Intelligence to respond to queries on Phase 2 and Phase 3 appointments?

There is supposed to be a COVID19 vaccination call center but we are not sure as to how well it is functioning. At the time of writing, we do not know how many people are manning this call center, whether this number of people is sufficient, which ministries they are from (or this function has been outsourced to a private company), what training this group of people have received and so on. We would definitely be interested to visit this call center so that we can better understand how well it is functioning. And if we feel that there need to be more resources allocated to this call center, we would definitely support the Coordinating Minister’s appeal for more funding and other useful resources.









Media Statement by Dr. Ong Kian Ming, Member of Parliament for Bangi and Assistant Political Education Director for the Democratic Action Party (DAP) on the 22nd of January, 2021

The National Security Council (NSC) failed the country in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic in allowing inter-state travel in December 2020 when the “percent positive” testing rate for the virus was over 5%

On the 18th of January, 2021, I published a list of 10 COVID-19 related questions directed to the Director General (DG) of Health, Tan Sri Dr. Noor Hisham.[1] One of the questions I asked was whether the DG would publish the Rt Values by state so that the public can know the projected COVID-19 trends for each state and also how the Rt value can be used to determine when the current MCO 2.0 can be lifted for each state. I would like to thank the DG for publishing the latest Rt values by the state yesterday, on the 21st of January, 2021.[2] These projections show that the number of daily COVID-19 could reach 8000 cases by the end of March 2021 if the Rt value remains at 1.1 for the entire country.

Apart from the Rt value, we should also focus on the daily “percent positive” rate of COVID-19 tests. I also called for this figure to be revealed nationally and by state. Although the positive testing rate is not published publicly by the Ministry of Health (MOH), these figures are provided to the World Health Organisation (WHO) and subsequently published in the “OUR WORLD IN DATA” website.[3]

Why is the daily “percent positive” rate an important measure? According to experts at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, the percent positive is a critical measure because it gives us an indication how widespread infection is in the area where the testing is occurring—and whether levels of testing are keeping up with levels of disease transmission.“[4] How should we interpret this “percent positive” figure? What levels should be considered too high?

According to the WHO, the threshold of “percent positive” is 5%. Only when this figure drops to less than 5% should a government relax existing public health measures put in place to control the spread of COVID-19. On the 21st of January 2021, CodeBlue reported that Malaysia’s “percent positive” rate has been more than 5% since the 6th of November 2020 and has not dropped below 5% since.[5] (Figures reproduced in Figure 1 below) Since the “percent positive” rate was more than 5% in the months of November and December, why did the National Security Council (NSC) allow for inter-state travel to take place starting on the 7th of December 2020 under the Conditional Movement Control Order (CMCO)? Could this have contributed to the spike in the number of COVID cases especially given the high amount of travel to places like Langkawi during the end of the year holiday?

This is another example of the lack of consistency on the part of the National Security Council (NSC) when it comes to public policies in fighting the COVID-19 pandemic. Decisions to restrict movement and then later increase restrictions do not seem to be based on any consistent rules or guidelines. The Perikatan Nasional (PN) government has once again failed to convince the public that it has a consistent, coherent, and comprehensive plan to control this pandemic.






Media Statement by Dr. Ong Kian Ming, Member of Parliament for Bangi and Assistant Political Education Director for the Democratic Action Party (DAP) on the 18th of January, 2021

10 Questions for Tan Sri Dr. Noor Hisham, Director General of Health

Two days ago, on the 16th of January, 2021, Malaysia reached a new high of 4,029 COVID-19 cases. We have just started the first week of the second Movement Control Order (MCO 2.0) and this will go on for two weeks from the 13th of January until the 26th of January. By contrast, we reached a high of 235 COVID-19 cases on the 26th of March, 2020, during the first MCO. Credit should be given to the leadership of Tan Sri Dr. Noor Hisham, the Director General (DG) of Health, and the public health front liners for their tireless efforts in combating the COVID-19 pandemic. But nine months after the first MCO, there are a number of questions that remain unanswered in our fight against the COVID pandemic. I hope that DG Noor Hisham can provide convincing answers to the following 10 questions in order to assure the public that the government has a comprehensive plan to control this pandemic.

Q1: What is the total number of daily COVID-19 tests done by the Ministry of Health (MoH)  and what is the daily % of positive cases?

The daily focus has primarily been on the total number of new daily COVID-19 cases. While this number is important, we also need to know the total number of tests that are being done on a daily basis and the % of positive cases. This will give us an indication of (i) our testing capacity and (ii) the daily infection rate. According to a report in October 2020, Malaysia’s daily testing capacity then was approximately 54,000 but the average number of tests done was less than half this number.[1] If the daily testing capacity cannot be reached because of human resource shortages, the private sector (which is already doing their own tests) can be roped in to address this gap. Daily testing by the state will also be able to show shortages in the number of test kits in places like Sabah, for example.

Knowing the daily infection rate is also a useful indicator of infection trends moving forward. There have been many calls for the DG to make known the daily testing figures but until now, for reasons unknown, this figure has not been disclosed on a daily basis.

Q2: What is the number of contact tracers used by MoH? What measures have been put in place to address shortfalls in contact tracers?

As the number of daily cases spiked to more than 1000, it was not surprising that the contact tracers would be overwhelmed. Over the past few weeks, reports have surfaced on how some families who have tested positive for COVID-19 had to wait for days before someone from MoH contacted them. Earlier this month, my colleague and former Deputy Health Minister, Dr. Lee Boon Chye, asked for an additional 10,000 contact tracers to be hired on a temporary basis to deal with the spike in the number of COVID-19 cases.[2] There has been little disclosure on the number of contact tracers used by the MoH and even less discussion on the need to hire more contact tracers by the government. Without a proper contact tracing infrastructure, our ability to contain this pandemic even after the end of MCO 2.0 will remain in question.

Q3: Can more accurate location information about COVID-19 cases be disclosed publicly?

To date, the MoH has been very reluctant to provide more accurate location information for new COVID-19 cases. According to official reasoning, the government doesn’t want to cause a public panic in places where positive COVID-19 cases have been identified. But at the same time, the DG has been asking the public to avoid crowded places. A more transparent and effective strategy would be for more accurate location information to be provided to the public so that they can stay informed. Without any official confirmation, unnecessary speculation about the exact location of new cases cannot be prevented. New sites such as Malaysiakini already provide a daily report of places with new COVID-19 cases but this list is not verified by MoH.[3] More transparent sharing of data would enable the public to make more well-informed choices about where to visit and where not to visit, especially after the end of MCO 2.0.

Q4: What transmission trends can be analysed based on MySejahtera data?

As of the 19th of November, 2020, the Ministry of Health has recorded 1.7 billion check-ins by users via the MySejahtera app (with an average of 15m daily check-ins) including for those COViD 19 positive patients.[4] But until now, we are not aware of whether this massive database has been analysed for transmission trends. For example, are the transmission rates higher in certain places such as gyms and restaurants compared to optometrists and hair salons? Once a factory cluster has been identified, what transmission mechanisms are most likely to cause community spread in the affected area?

We need to know this analysis in order to determine which businesses should be allowed to open during an MCO. We also need this information in order to improve and enhance our existing SOPs to reduce transmission rates. As of now, nobody is quite sure, if and how the data from the MySejahtera application is being analysed and processed. This is one of the reasons why, for example, there is still uncertainty as to whether hair salons and optometrists should be allowed to operate during MCO 2.0.

Q5: What is the capacity in terms of the number of beds available and the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) capacity by the state?

To date, there has not been daily data released to show the capacity of beds available for COVID-19 patients as well as the total ICU capacity. Ideally, this information should be given by the state so that there is public transparency over existing hospital capacity and what additional steps need to be done to address shortages in this capacity. This would include the need to rope in private healthcare facilities to take in COVID-19 patients (if necessary). The possibility of asking patients with no or mild symptoms to stay at home to quarantine should also be discussed in light of shortages in hospital beds. We only hear about the lack of capacity recently with the Prime Minister’s announcement that our healthcare system is at a ‘breaking point’ in terms of ICU and non-ICU bed utilisation rates.[5] Why isn’t this information included as part and parcel of the DG’s COVID-19 briefing and press statement?

Q6: What were the COVID-19 transmission rates in schools when there was face to face classes in 2020?

One of the biggest challenges faced by parents in 2020 is the shutting down of schools due to COVID 19. The decision by the Ministry of Education to shut down all primary and secondary schools until the end of 2020 seems like a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach that does not take into account variances in COVID cases across districts and states. As important, MOE has not disclosed any data or analysis with regards to transmission rates within schools.

The information which has been released by the Ministry of Health tells us nothing about how children of a school going age may have gotten the virus. Indeed, the manner in which some data has been released by MOH and reported in the news seems misleading. For example, in a statement on the 23rd of June 2020, the DG of Health said that one of five COVID 19 or 20% of patients in Malaysia is 18 years and below.[6] On the 22nd of October, the DG was reported to have said that more than 1,000 school-going children were infected with the virus since the start of the 3rd wave from the 20th of September to the 21st of October. During this time, it was reported that 587 cases involved pupils aged from 7 to 12, and 670 cases involved students aged 13 to 18.[7]

These reports seem to give the indication that the students contacted COVID while attending school. This will inevitably stoke unnecessary fears among parents who may have 2nd thoughts about sending their children to school.

What do international studies and benchmarks tell us?

In an update date 21st of October 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) made the following conclusions among COVID transmissions in schools:[8]

  • There were few outbreaks reported in schools since early 2020 and in most COVID 19 cases reported in children, the transmission occurred at home
  • More outbreaks were reported in secondary/high schools than in primary/elementary schools
  • In school outbreaks, it was more likely that the virus was introduced by adults rather than by other children.
  • School outbreaks were only high when the incidence of local / community transmission was high.

The same WHO study also recommended that schools be closed when there is no other alternative because of the negative effects of school closure especially on marginalized children who may drop out of school and who may be deprived of school-based services such as school meals and mental health support.

In a publication on the 14th of September, the WHO, UNICEF, and UNESCO wrote that “decisions on full or partial closure or reopening should be taken at a local administrative level, based on the local level of transmission of SARS-CoV-2 and the local risk assessment, as well as how much the reopening of education settings might increase transmission in the community”.[9]

If schools are to re-open for face to face classes in the RMCO and CMCO states on the 20th of January, 2021, MoH and MOE have to disclose data publicly in order to convince parents that it is safe to send their kids to schools.

Q7: Housing situation for foreign workers in the security, manufacturing and construction industries?

One of the main transmission channels for the COVID-19 virus has undoubtedly been dormitories which house foreign workers who work as security guards, construction workers and factory workers. Some of the glove manufacturers with a high number of COVID-19 cases were asked to shut down ‘in stages’ but were allowed to re-open after their workers were tested. But thus far, there has not been any concrete policy announced by the Ministry of Health or the Ministry of Human Resources to force employers to provide for less cramped accommodation for the sectors with the most number of COVID-19 cases. There has also not been a coherent testing policy announced for the construction and manufacturing sectors. There MUST be such policies put in place in order to keep the COVID 19 transmission rates low, especially after MCO 2.0 is lifted. Without proper testing and accommodation policies for these foreign workers, it is less likely that COVID-19 infection rates can be controlled after the lifting of MCO 2.0

Q8: What is the Rt Value by state and why isn’t this figure publicly available?

MoH publishes the daily Rt value for the entire country on its COVID-19 website.[10] This figure currently stands at 1.17. Any value above 1 means that the number of cases is expected to grow and any number less than 1 means that the virus is under control and the number of cases can be expected to decrease over time. It would also be useful for MoH to publish daily Rt values for each state in Malaysia so that there is more clarity on which states are performing better and which states are doing worse from an infection control standpoint. The Rt value by the state can and should also be used as an indicator on when an MCO should be declared for a state and when it should be changed to a CMCO or an RMCO. For an even more targeted approach, the Rt value can be used for individual areas within a state. The Rt value by the state clearly exists since DG Noor Hisham has referred to it in one of his Facebook posts on the 20th of December, 2020.[11] Why not disclose the state by state figures on a regular basis?

Q9: How has the federal government worked with the respective state governments to fight COVID-19?

Thus far, the fight against COVID-19 seems to be one that is controlled and dictated mostly by the Federal government with the Ministry of Health, specifically the DG, taking the lead. There has been little coordination between the federal government and the respective state governments to join forces in the spirit of cooperation and solidarity. The former Minister of Health, Dr. Dzulkefly Ahmad, who is also the chair of the Selangor Taskforce on COVID-19 (STFC) has publicly called for more data sharing and cooperation with the Ministry of Health but so far, his calls have gone unheeded.[12] It is this kind of ‘silo’ mentality that has prevented Malaysia from using a ‘whole-of-government, whole-of-society’ approach to battle this pandemic. Will this kind of mentality change now that the number of COVID cases have spiked significantly, especially in the state of Selangor?

Q10: What are we doing differently now compared to March 2020?

My last and final question is simple. With nine months of experience in dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, what lessons have we learned and what are we doing differently in MCO 2.0 compared to the first MCO? Do the plans which have been announced give the public confidence that the Ministry of Health and also the rest of the government are capable of bringing down the COVID-19 numbers without collapsing the economy?

There is little indication that this government has learned from the experiences of the past 9 months. Last minute SOPs issued AFTER the start of MCO 2.0, U-turns on which sectors can open e.g. the automotive manufacturing sector[13] and optometrists[14] and uncertainty over school re-opening[15] are just some examples of the failure of this government to prepare for MCO 2.0. As the adage goes, “if we fail to plan, we plan to fail”.