The Sabah state government recently received flak for putting returning Malaysian students from overseas at quarantine centres with terrible living conditions
Last Friday, 27 March, PPBM Sabah Armada deputy chief Ceasar Mandela Malakun took to Facebook to highlight that the students were being kept in "improper, nasty, and squalid" quarantine centres throughout the state.
The photos and videos Ceasar posted show that some of these students are ordered to stay in a cement-floored house with little to no home appliances. The walls and pipes in the shower room are covered with black moulds and it does not have a water heater.
Worst of all, as the person filming the video said, they were forced to use a toilet on the balcony, which does not have a door and it is facing the roads.
"I think this is a new trend for toilets, it is called 'a hole in the ground open toilet concept, with a hole in the ceiling'," said the student.
The video was even shared by former prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak.
Many family members of these students were heartbroken to see their children or siblings come back to Malaysia only to be treated like "prisoners" living in jail-like conditions
Among them is Alice (not her real name) who told SAYS that her younger sister recently came back from the UK and was forced to stay in a dusty quarantine centre in Penampang.
She said she agreed with the government's order to quarantine all returning Malaysians, but the quarantine centres must at least meet a certain cleanliness standard - especially when hygiene plays a big part in keeping COVID-19 at bay.
Alice said she and other returning students' family members fought hard to pressure the local government to relocate the students out of the horrid quarantine centre.
"They stayed only one night at the centre and shifted out the next day. (The shift was possible) after we fought for our rights with the government from the moment they arrived in Kota Kinabalu until they were finally transferred to a hotel," said Alice.
Now that her sister is in the eighth day of quarantine, Alice is concerned about the standard operating procedure of the Ministry of Health (MOH). According to her, MOH personnel do not conduct temperature checks on every quarantined member in the hotel every day.
One returning student also shared his experience of being quarantined in Sabah once he returned from the UK
"I am a student in the UK. The threat of lockdown in the UK and coupled with uncertainty made me decide to return to Malaysia," explained Joshua.
"After travelling 35 hours (with layovers and overnight at the airport), I finally arrived home at KLIA on 26 March. It wasn't easy; my flight was changed three times, cost 60% more than usual, and the frequency of bus and train services in the UK was being reduced."
His difficult journey to return home continued even after he arrived in Sabah. According to him, the day he arrived in Sabah was the day the state government announced mandatory quarantines for every returning Malaysian.
"Prior to this, my parents had checked with the airport daily but there was no notice, no warning, no press statement at all. I spoke to a number of passengers and they all felt the same; people were forced into quarantine and not given a choice," Joshua related.
He said the treatment he received was rather intimidating as he was surrounded by armed policemen carrying submachine guns, which he said felt like he "was arrested and detained for a crime".
Joshua was then instructed to go to a makeshift quarantine centre at a bomba hostel in Sepangar, where six people would share a same room
"I found out that the bomba hostel at Sepangar was so bad that it defies logic. No water, third world toilet, worse than immigrant camp. And worst of all, 28 tabligh members were housed there too. How can they allow high-risk persons to be housed with healthy people? I consider myself so lucky as I felt that I dodged a bullet here," he elaborated.
It was after Joshua's father and other parents' strong protest against the authorities that granted them to transfer to a different quarantine centre in Penampang.
After Malaysians learned about their plight, many flooded the social media posts to criticise the local government and share their concern
Netizens said such living conditions will lead to other health complications, such as dysentery.
"Something must be done to upgrade this quarantine center, it looks inappropriate and less hygienic environment to reside in (sic). COVID-19 is one thing but other diseases may also be easily spread in such a place," commented a Malaysian.
Some netizens who can recognise the quarantine centre from the photos said the building was abandoned years ago.
On Sunday, 29 March, the Sabah state government apologised for the poor arrangement and vowed that they would rectify the mistake
The Star reported Sabah Health director Datuk Dr Christina Rundi as saying that they are taking steps to improve the living conditions in these quarantine centres:
- Bomba Academy in Sepanggar,
- Health Ministry Training Institute in Bukit Padang, and
- Kota Kinabalu Polytechnic.
"We apologise for the inconvenience," Christina said following the public complaints.
She said Monaco Boutique Hotel in Sadong Jaya is currently being used as a quarantine centre in Kota Kinabalu, adding that the state has a total of 20 quarantine centres with 658 people still being observed by the medical authorities.
Read more COVID-19 stories on SAYS: