Coronavirus: 12 Malaysians who attended Sulawesi's Tabligh event detained in Sabah

A photo taken on March 19, 2020 shows police officers in protective suits spray disinfectant at a tent where a Muslim mass gathering was supposed to be held in Gowa, South Sulawesi. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

KUALA LUMPUR -Malaysian security forces in Sabah on Sunday (March 23) detained 12 members of the Tabligh missionary group returning from a mass gathering in Indonesia that had been cancelled, and placed the group in quarantine amid the coronavirus pandemic, Malaysian news media reported.

The men tried to enter Sabah waters off Tawau - located near Indonesia's North Kalimantan province - on a boat. But they ran into joint patrols of the marine police, Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency and the armed forces, according to the Free Malaysia Today news site.

The 12 men were in Gowa in South Sulawesi province for a Tabligh mass event last week that was cancelled by the Indonesian government due to the pandemic. Though the event was dropped, several hundred people had already gathered in the area, with huge tents set up for the gathering.

A report in The Star on Sunday said the men arrived in Tawau on Saturday (March 21) evening and were detained on Sunday.

A source told The Star that the authorities received information that the group was planning to come back after reaching Pulau Sebatik in Indonesia from Sulawesi.

Sabah state secretary Datuk Safar Untong said all those who wanted to return from Sulawesi would be barred from entering the state, as the East Malaysia state tries to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

Malaysia on Sunday reported that 10 people have died from the Covid-19, the disease caused by the virus.

A total of 1,306 people who have tested positive - the highest number of positive cases in South-east Asia.

The alarm over the Tabligh group - a Muslim group that originated in India a century ago - has been raised as six of the 10 Malaysian deaths were linked to a mass gathering of the group between February 27 and March 1 at a mosque in Sri Petaling in southern Kuala Lumpur.

The gathering of some 16,000 people, including 1,500 foreign nationals, has led to the spread of the virus in Singapore, Brunei, Thailand and Vietnam.

Out of Malaysia's 1,306 cases, 60 per cent were from the Sri Petaling cluster.

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