In a tweet which went out an hour before the government announced the suspension of immigration facilities for China nationals who originated from Wuhan district and Hubei province, ex-premier Najib pointed out that such a move had been taken in 2003, during Mahathir’s first tenure as premier, during the global Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (Sars) coronavirus outbreak.
He said this in response to an alleged social media post which claimed the BN government while in power did not prevent travelers from entering the country during previous virus outbreaks.
“That is not true. The government, under the fourth PM (prime minister), had prevented tourists from China and Hong Kong (from entering Malaysia) during the Sars outbreak in 2003.
“Conditional restrictions were also placed on visitors from certain other countries at the time,” he said in a Facebook posting today.
“But the 7th PM does not know what the 4th PM did,” he added, linking his post to a screenshot of a 2003 Wall Street Journal article on a temporary ban imposed by the Malaysian government on mainland Chinese and Hong Kong visitors.
Restrictions were also placed on travelers from Canada, Taiwan, and Vietnam.
However, the article did say that such a move was “unprecedented” and “the most radical” for any country at the time.
Mahathir served as the country’s fourth prime minister from 1981 to 2003 when he led BN. He returned as the seventh prime minister after the 14th general election in 2018, this time as the head of the Harapan government.
This comes as the current administration is facing pressure from several quarters to temporarily restrict the arrival of Chinese nationals as the new coronavirus originated in Wuhan, Hubei province in China.
Malaysia recently confirmed four Chinese nationals to be infected with novel coronavirus 2019-nCoV. The virus was found to be a new strain of the coronavirus linked to Sars and the Middle East respiratory syndrome (Mers).
This has raised the fear that the virus will continue to spread rapidly as it has already killed 80 and infected over 2,700 people globally, mainly in China.
An online petition requesting the government to impose an entry ban on Chinese nationals have so far garnered more than 379,000 signatures.
In a previous tweet, Najib also questioned the government’s decision not to suspend the country’s 15-day visa exemption for tourists from China, saying such a move could appease Malaysians.
Apa yang masih halang kerajaan untuk gantung sementara pengecualian visa warga China yang baru dilaksanakan 26 hari?
Sekurang-kurangnya, boleh legakan sedikit kebimbangan Rakyat.
Tak perlu untuk sekat semua pelawat.https://t.co/w0Nc7XwKxo
— Mohd Najib Tun Razak (@NajibRazak) January 26, 2020
The Harapan government has so far declined to impose a travel ban, nor review the visa-exemption policy.
Deputy Prime Minister Dr. Wan Azizah Wan Ismail yesterday said the government was taking into consideration the World Health Organisation’s decision that the new coronavirus outbreak did not constitute a global epidemic yet.
They also took into consideration the ban placed by China on any travel in and out of Wuhan and other areas, among others.
However, the Prime Minister’s Office today announced it would only suspend the policy, along with visa on arrival, e-visa, and manual visa immigration application facilities for Chinese nationals originating from Wuhan city and the larger Hubei province.
Health Minister Dr. Dzulkefly Ahmad had earlier today stressed that the country is on a high level of preparedness following a wealth of experience dealing with the breakout of viruses in the past. -Malaysiakini
Featured Image Origin: Astro Awani