Viral video of 'hugging queue' outside Covid-19 vaccination centre in Malaysia sparks outcry

The long queue outside the hotel was attributed to a misunderstanding that it would provide walk-in vaccination for non-Malaysians.
PHOTO: Instagram screengrab

KUALA LUMPUR - A viral video showing a group of people queueing in tight proximity to one another outside a vaccination centre in Kuala Lumpur has sparked an outcry and raised concerns of further outbreaks in a country where the authorities are already struggling to bring down the stubbornly high daily Covid-19 cases and deaths.

The seven-minute video, apparently taken outside the Rumah Prihatin @ Grand Seasons hotel public vaccination centre showed people queueing up so closely that at some point, they looked like they were hugging one another.

The video, posted on Instagram on Wednesday (Aug 11), has prompted Deputy Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob to urge the authorities to take action.

"I am shocked to see the video of the situation at the Rumah Prihatin Hotel Grand Seasons... today, which was so crowded. The standard operating procedures (SOPs) have been flouted.

"I hope the authorities can ensure situations where foreign workers are crammed like this will not occur again because it can cause an outbreak.

"I will contact the relevant ministries and the police so that this incident can be handled immediately," Datuk Seri Ismail said in a posting on his Instagram account on Wednesday.

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In the video, a man was seen to be dismounting his motorcycle on the side of a road before shouting at the crowd to maintain physical distance. He also asked the patrol officers at the scene to intervene, and made a plea to International Trade and Industries Minister Azmin Ali to "do something", as he said many of those waiting in line appeared to be foreigners.

Later in the video, the man said the police had complained about his motorcycle being parked illegally when they should be more concerned about the long line of people who broke Covid-19 safety protocols.

"Why are you busying yourself with my motorcycle parked on the yellow line, but not the thousands who were queueing like they were hugging one another?" he asked.

"Why do the people in power - from ministers to police - not know how to exercise their powers in situations like this?

"People are dying. Fathers, mothers, children - all these people are dying. Use your powers," the man, visibly upset and in tears, implored as he talked to the camera.

The video, posted on Instagram on Wednesday, has garnered more than four million views. The vast majority of the approximately 11,000 comments on the post supported the man.

In a separate statement, police said they have deployed a compliance team to control the situation at the vaccination centre.

"Word has been spread to the public in attendance to observe social distancing and wear face masks, as stated in the SOPs.

"The compliance team successfully controlled the situation at the centre until the vaccination programme was over," Dang Wangi district police chief Noor Dellhan Yahaya was quoted by the Malaysiakini news portal as saying.

The hotel on Wednesday attributed the long queue to a misunderstanding that it would provide walk-in vaccination for non-Malaysians.

The crowd had refused to leave despite being asked to disperse by the police, said Rumah Prihatin @ Grand Seasons, a charity hotel that opened on July 15. It provides meals, beds, counselling services and vaccines to people affected by the pandemic.

This was due to a misunderstanding "that Rumah Prihatin provides a walk-in vaccine service for non-citizens", it said in a statement, as quoted by the Malay Mail news portal.

"As a result, an unanticipated 'rush crowd' occurred."

The only public vaccination centre accepting walk-in vaccinations for non-Malaysians is at the Bukit Jalil National Stadium, the hotel added.

The man and his wife, who reportedly shot the video, said they returned to the hotel less than an hour later and saw a sizeable number of people remaining outside without social distancing being observed, though the crowd appeared to be smaller.

Malaysia recorded another 20,780 infections on Wednesday, bringing the total number of cases to 1.3 million since the start of the pandemic.

There were 211 new deaths reported on Wednesday. The current death toll from Covid-19 in Malaysia stands at 11,373.

This article was first published in The Straits Times. Permission required for reproduction.