Fact-Checking Dr Adham Baba's Claim That PH Failed To Contain The Tabligh Cluster

The Health Minister also claimed that he was on a WHO conference call with "500 countries".

Cover image via Sinar Harian

Health Minister Dr Adham Baba held a video call with UMNO president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi that was streamed live on Facebook on Saturday, 18 April, where they spoke about the COVID-19 situation in the country

In the live-streamed call, Dr Adham claimed that the previous government failed to contain the tabligh cluster, which grew to become Malaysia's biggest source of COVID-19 infections.

The call, about 25 minutes in length, was uploaded on Zahid's official Facebook page.

"On 10 March, we had a new cluster appear which the previous government failed to contain, which is the tabligh cluster. It happened from 27 February to 3 March. It is very big," the Health Minister said.

"Until now, we are still unable to stop its spread," he added, claiming that had this cluster been stopped earlier, "the second wave of infections wouldn't have happened" in the country.

The Health Minister was referring to the four-day ijtimak tabligh gathering that was held at Sri Petaling Jamek Mosque in Kuala Lumpur and was attended by more than 16,000 attendees.

Given his previously made misleading claim about warm water killing coronavirus, we thought we should fact-check Dr Adham's latest claim

First things first, it appears the Health Minister is not aware that 2020 is a leap year.

The month of February had an extra day.

The four-day tabligh gathering was held from 27 February and ended on 1 March, not 3 March.

Health director-general Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah detailed the number of attendees and the date of the gathering in this infographic on his official Facebook page back on 13 March.

The first set of COVID-19 cases in Malaysia was reported on 25 January. The numbers remained relatively low and a month later, all 22 cases made a full recovery and were discharged by 26 February.

On 27 February, a 53-year-old Malaysian woman with travel history to Japan became Case 23.

Next day, two more cases were reported. It involved a Japanese female national and an Italian male, both foreign nationals working and living in Malaysia. That was all for the month of February.

This happened prior to the tabligh cluster, which came to light during the second week of March.

Image via Worldometers

Dr Adham claimed that "if the tabligh cluster was prevented, there would be no second wave. We may only have small clusters."

He then put the blame on the previous government for the failure. However, the Health Minister omitted an important fact from his claim.

When the tabligh gathering was held, Malaysia was without a government from 24 February to 29 February after the Pakatan Harapan (PH) administration was collapsed due to the political crisis caused by the current ruling coalition of Perikatan Nasional (PN) which came to power without going through an election.

The political crisis, in part, was caused by Dr Adham's party UMNO which allied with several other parties with the sole intention to take down the PH government amidst the COVID-19 situation.

In fact, the political crisis continued for at least two more weeks into the month of March, during which, Muhyiddin Yassin, who took Bersatu out of PH to join forces with opposition parties along with Azmin Ali, was sworn in as the eighth Prime Minister on 1 March under his new PN coalition.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Health (MOH) remained without a Health Minister until 10 March. On that day, PN MPs were sworn in to form a new Cabinet with Dr Adham being made the Health Minister. 

Another crucial fact that Dr Adham is probably not aware of is that preparation to handle the COVID-19 situation had started in December

MOH, at that time under Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad, planned and identified seven hospitals specifically to treat COVID-19 patients even before the first cases were reported on 25 January, according to Dr Noor Hisham.

"Remember, before we get our first our patient on the 25th of January, our preparation already started in December 2019," the Health D-G, who has been serving in his current role since 2013 and has worked alongside three different Health Ministers, is on record stating Malaysia's COVID-19 preparedness.

During his daily press briefing on Thursday, 16 April, Dr Noor Hisham revealed that in order to decongest the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) beds, the ministry planned, in stages, "to decant some of the services and identify seven COVID-19 hospitals. (Where) we don't treat anything else, but COVID-19 hospitals."

Image via SAYS

The Health Minister, during his call with Zahid, also said that he was on a World Health Organization (WHO) conference call with 500 countries

"I believe what I have done has been acknowledged by the world. I was in a video-conferencing call with the WHO — 500 nations. I was live, it was a video-conference," Dr Adham told Zahid.

Then in response to the UMNO president encouraging him to make more public appearances so that he is seen in the frontlines with other senior politicians, the Health Minister added that "in the media, I am always there with my tagline Kita Mesti Menang (we must win)."

Well, we fact-checked this claim, too.

While a quick Google search will say there are 195 countries in the world, the real answer depends on how one defines a country and which set of criteria is applied. Still, it's not 500.

There are several correct answers to this with 249 countries being the highest number, according to the international standard "country code" list known as ISO 3166-1.

Of the 249 countries, 193 are UN members, 45 are inhabited dependent territories, six are uninhabited territories, two are UN observer states, two are states with partial recognition, and one is Antarctica.

In March, Dr Adham received widespread ridicule after he claimed during an appearance on RTM that drinking warm water can kill the virus that causes COVID-19 because the virus "doesn't like heat":

Meanwhile, the Malaysian Information Department has defined news that "instils hatred towards the ruling government" as fake news:

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