19 March 2020
There have been concerns over the imminent return of Malaysians who travelled to Sulawesi this week to attend a mammoth rally organised by the tabligh moment, which has since been called off over fears of the spread of Covid-19.
But while it is learnt that Malaysian authorities are bent on putting them in quarantine, there are also worries that foreigners who travelled to Indonesia could use Malaysia as a transit point for their connecting flights.
“A group of elder leaders of the tabligh movement from the Indian subcontinent was at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport on their way to the Sulawesi event,” said a diplomat who spoke on condition of anonymity.
“They would surely travel using the same route. The question is whether they would also be considered a health hazard during their momentary stay at the airport.”
Under the movement control order (MCO) which restricts people’s mobility until March 31, foreign visitors are barred from entering the country.
However, Malaysia Airports today said transit and connecting flight passengers who do not require immigration clearance are allowed to board connecting flights.
The tabligh group came under public scrutiny after its gathering attended by tens of thousands at the Sri Petaling mosque was identified as the base for a spike in Covid-19 cases, which touched 900 today.
One of the two deaths recorded in Malaysia this week was that of a tabligh member, a 34-year-old man who attended the Sri Petaling event.
The gathering in Gowa, Sulawesi drew tens of thousands of tabligh followers, including more than 80 from Malaysia, even as authorities there tried to persuade organisers to call it off.
It is understood that key leaders of the rally arrived in transit at KLIA before flying to Indonesia on March 17, just a day before the MCO took effect.
Public health think tank Galen Centre for Health and Social Policy said it hoped the returning Malaysians would be quarantined.
“They should be treated the same way Malaysians returning from Wuhan, China were treated,” Galen CEO Azrul Mohd Khalib told FMT.
He said incoming passengers, including those in transit, should arrive at a satellite terminal rather than the main terminal.
“But if this is unavoidable, the movements of those who land including transiting passengers have to be restricted. They shouldn’t be allowed to move freely in the airport, including going to restaurants.
“Their movements should be restricted to a lounge when they arrive and they should wait there until it’s time to board their flight. This way, it will be easier to disinfect the areas after they leave,” he said.