By Soon Li Wei
KUALA LUMPUR (Bernama) – Cool weather, cloudy skies and rain were in store for Malaysians as they welcomed the new year. Every year, the rainy season from November to March causes flooding in several states in Peninsular Malaysia.
This year, Kelantan, Terengganu, Pahang and Johor have been hit by floods and with the COVID-19 pandemic showing no sign of abating, it is imperative that the victims and authorities involved in rescue operations exercise more caution.
For those living in remote areas who have been shifted to temporary relief centres (PPS) to escape the rising floodwater levels, it is challenging for them to observe physical distancing in the PPS.
Flood victims who can afford it can move to homestay residences or stay with their relatives whose homes are not affected by the floods if they don’t want to put up in the overcrowded PPS.
The National Disaster Management Agency has outlined several standard operating procedures (SOP) for the designation and operation of PPS but the rules may not have taken into consideration the issue of physical distancing.
Among the SOPs are PPS can be opened in areas under Conditional Movement Control Order but they must have a MySejahtera QR code to be scanned by all the flood victims housed there, as well as the rescue personnel on duty. All individuals also need to have their body temperature taken at the entry points.
Although the Ministry of Health has said that there have been no cases of COVID-19 infection at 71 PPS in Kelantan, Terengganu and Pahang as of Jan 6, the risk of infection is still there if any SOP is ignored.
Although SOPs are in place at the PPS, the people there are forced to share the toilets and bathrooms, as well as the area where they perform their ablutions before prayers.
They may be required to stay at the PPS for days at a stretch and will only be allowed to return home once the floodwater has subsided. What if they start showing symptoms of COVID-19 once they get home?
Research by the Singapore National Centre for Infectious Diseases and Academy of Medicine has shown that infected individuals can transmit the virus about two days before manifesting the symptoms.
And, COVID-19 patients can spread the virus seven to 10 days after they develop symptoms such as fever and persistent cough.
To ensure that the SOPs are strictly complied with at the PPS, members of the People’s Volunteer Corps (Rela) and army personnel must be placed on duty there to monitor the flood victims.
Symptomatic victims should immediately be isolated and sent to the nearest hospital or quarantine centre to undergo COVID-19 screening.
The flood season is also the time when various caring non-governmental organisations (NGOs), elected representatives and corporate bodies come forward to visit the flood victims and extend aid to them.
While the assistance rendered by them is deeply appreciated by the flood victims, it can be worrying if their representatives happen to come from COVID-19 red zones. The charitable-hearted individuals are known to move around in groups and one can imagine what can transpire if they don’t adhere to the SOPs.
By right, these NGOs and other groups who wish to provide aid can work with Rela members or army personnel to help them to distribute their supplies to the flood victims.
Such an approach will prevent the transmission of COVID-19 to those housed in the PPS in view of the fact that most members of NGOs and charity groups hail from areas declared as COVID-19 hotspots.
In Terengganu, for example, the state government has ruled that any NGO wishing to extend aid must first register at the district office, Social Welfare Department or police station in order to identify which zone they are from.
On Dec 20, Terengganu police chief Roslee Chik was quoted as saying that individuals and NGOs from red zones were discouraged from visiting the state to help flood victims as the state has enough personnel on duty.
Perhaps, the other states affected by floods – Kelantan, Pahang, Johor and Melaka – should also implement a similar SOP to prevent the onslaught of NGO members and individuals eager to extend a helping hand to the flood victims.
Once the floodwater has subsided and the victims have returned home, they are not concerned about facing a shortage of food. What they are worried about is the damage to their property and crops.
Those who face floods every year are usually well-prepared and know what to do when the rainy season appears. The first-timers, however, may only be able to save the clothes they are wearing when emergency strikes and they are told to evacuate their homes. And, by the time they return home, their valuables and important documents may have been destroyed by the floodwater.
These flood victims need all the help they can get to not only obtain food supply but also to clean and repair their houses and replace the important documents that were destroyed during the flood.
The government should consider making exemptions on payments for applications to replace documents such as identity cards, birth certificates and land or house titles that are destroyed during floods.
And, don’t forget that the massive post-flood clean-up will also involve calling the firemen and Civil Defence Force personnel to remove snakes and monitor lizards hiding inside the house or in the trees nearby.
It is also important to get rid of all the garbage brought in by the floodwater. If this is not done, water may collect in the garbage which will then become ideal breeding grounds for the Aedes mosquito.
Besides dengue fever, the risk of infection by waterborne pathogens that cause diseases such as typhoid and cholera also rises after the flooding season.
The views expressed in this article are the writer’s own.
Translated by Rema Nambiar
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