There are mounting fears of a Covid-19 outbreak at Pekan Ampang due to the lack of physical distancing at the Bangladesh High Commission Passport Service Centre.
Authorities, however, seem to be caught in a sticky situation as they do not want to strain diplomatic ties.
The lines in Jalan Besar Ampang start forming daily as early as 4am as Bangladeshis flock to get their paperwork done. Most of them wear masks but do not observe the 1m physical distancing rule. In fact, they tend to group together while waiting their turn.
They are forced to wait under the sun or take shelter at shops when it rains. All this happens because the high commission’s processing mechanism is not systematic.
With the lack of enforcement and adherence to standard operating procedures (SOPs), local traders and residents fear the worst.
SJK(C) Ong Pong, SJK(T) Ampang, a wet market and the Ampang health clinic are a stone’s throw away from the high commission.
David Sam Hoo Wai, chairman of the Ampang Market Association, said it was common to see the visitors spitting openly and urinating by the roadside due to the lack of facilities.
“It’s a health and hygiene problem. Most of our customers are elderly and we don’t want anything untoward to happen to them,” said Sam.
The association represents over 300 traders.
Sam said there no Covid-19 cases had been recorded in the area to date but added it is “better to be safe than sorry”.
Peter Leong, who sells noodles at the market, said while large crowds been the norm since the high commission moved there four years ago, it was of much concern now as the nation is facing a pandemic.
“During peak hours, the area is congested with vehicles, including e-hailing vehicles and taxis waiting by the roadside. We are obviously concerned,” he said.
Vegetable trader Kong Soo Khin said: “People come to the market and provision shops to get their essentials, but if hygiene in the surrounding area is poor, they will go elsewhere and our business will also suffer.”
Long-time Ampang resident Lai Chen Heng said the visitors should not shoulder all the blame.
“The High Commission should have a better system to ensure SOPs are adhered to,” said Lai, who is also the KL-Selangor PKR action group co-ordinator.
“There should also be more enforcement by the authorities. There is no physical distancing and people are lining up right up to the market compound.”
Ampang Jaya Municipal Council president Datuk Abd Hamid Hussain who was alerted to the matter by Twentytwo13 yesterday afternoon sprang into action and requested police assistance.
“Local councils have no power to take action against individuals not adhering to SOPs and we need to work with the police.
“I’ve been informed a team of policemen has been dispatched to the area.”
Abd Hamid said the council recently received a memorandum from traders who were displeased with the problems over the years with the presence of the High Commission.
“The Foreign Ministry is also aware about the situation and informed us that the High Commission needs more time to get a new location. They are also facing budget issues,” he said.
Efforts to get comments from the High Commission proved futile.