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Friday, January 31, 2020

Former CM questions Sabah govt over China travel ban

Former chief minister Yong Teck Lee wants Sabah government to explain the blanket ban on all inbound flights from all airports in mainland China but not from Hong Kong or Macau, which have also reported cases of infection.
KOTA KINABALU: Sabah Progressive Party (SAPP) president Yong Teck Lee has questioned whether the state government had really thought it through before imposing a travel ban from China to the state.
While the people can accept the government would like to exercise caution in preventing the spread of coronavirus to Sabah, Yong said the government must be more convincing in its strategy and methods in tackling the situation.
“Is the total suspension of flights from China to Sabah a public health neccessity?
“Did the Sabah Cabinet refer to the federal health authorities or to the World Health Organisation (WHO) before deciding on a suspension of all flights originating from China?
“The WHO emergency committee had said that it ‘does not recommend any travel restriction based on current information available’,” he said in a statement here today.
Deputy Chief Minister Christina Liew had yesterday announced the Sabah government’s decision to suspend all scheduled and chartered flights from China to Sabah with immediate effect.
Liew said the decision was made during the state Cabinet meeting in light of the coronavirus threat and in the interest of the people’s welfare, adding the ban was only temporary until the situation was back to normal.
AFP reported that the UN health agency on Thursday declared an international emergency over the deadly novel coronavirus from China — a rarely used designation that could lead to improved international coordination in tackling the disease.
“Our greatest concern is the potential for the virus to spread to countries with weaker health systems,” WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said as he declared a “public health emergency of international concern”.
Towards this end, Yong said several questions have cropped up with Sabah’s decision to suspend all flights from China.
“How does the government explain the blanket ban on all inbound flights from all airports in mainland China but not from Hong Kong or Macau, which have reported several cases of infection of the virus?”
He said Peninsular Malaysia and other countries had also reported cases of the coronavirus.
“Is the government considering to stop all inbound flights from Peninsular Malaysia, too?
“Since Sabah has suspended all inbound flights from China to Sabah, how do China citizens who are now in Sabah return to China? How do Sabahans now in China return to Sabah?” he asked.
Yong, who is a former chief minister, said the Sabah government needs a transparent, systematic and comprehensive approach in such public health matters.
“Ministers should not be perceived, rightly or wrongly, as reacting to unfounded fears and rumours in social media.”
117 weekly flights affected
Bernama reported that a total of 117 weekly flights from 15 cities in China, as well as Taiwan and Hong Kong, have been affected following the Sabah government’s decision to temporary suspend all scheduled and charter flights from China to the state from yesterday.
The 117 flights do not include an earlier suspension of 10 flights from Wuhan, comprising Air Asia (seven) and Malindo Air (three) flights, as well as seven flights from Shanghai via Spring Airlines, following the spread of the coronavirus.
According to Kota Kinabalu International Airport (KKIA) manager Sunif Naiman, the 117 affected flights comprise AirAsia flights (53), China Southern Airlines (21), Malindo Air (17), Malaysia Airlines (nine), Xiamen Air (seven), Shanghai Airlines (seven) and Loong Air (three).
The 15 cities include Shenzhen, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Hangzhou, Fuzhou, Kunming, Chengdu, Tianjin, Wengzhou, Yiwu, Ningbo, Xian and Xiamen.
Sabah Tourism Board statistics show Chinese tourists were the largest number of foreigners to visit the state last year, totalling 558,903 people. Last year, Sabah received 3.76 million visitors, comprising 2.44 million domestic tourists and 1.32 million foreign tourists.
Yesterday, state health director Dr Christina Rundi had said that nine Chinese nationals in Sabah were still categorised as suspected coronavirus cases.
Bold move, says Matta
Meanwhile, Malaysian Association of Tour and Travel Agents (Matta) president Tan Kok Liang said he understands and respects the Sabah government’s decision to temporarily suspend the flights.
“The decision to suspend all flights routed to and from Sabah is a bold move by the state government and one that is designed to protect the people currently in Sabah, including tourists.
“We hope that this will only be a temporary measure and that this ban will quickly be lifted as soon as the situation subsides and travel between Sabah and China will resume as normal,” he said.
According to Tan, Matta’s position throughout the crisis has been consistent in that it has always given top priority to the health, safety and security of people, Malaysians and tourists alike. - FMT

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