Total lockdown might be necessary if Covid-19 cases on rise, experts says

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KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia needs tougher measures to ensure compliance with the standard operating procedures (SOP) in the economic sector if the Covid-19 situation does not improve.

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Health director-general Tan Sri Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah stressed the need for greater discipline among businesses to comply with the SOP and flatten the virus transmission curve.

Referring to reports of a possible total economic lockdown after Feb 4 when the Movement Control Order (MCO 2.0) ends, Dr Noor Hisham said he feared Malaysia could experience a similar situation taking place in the United States and the United Kingdom if the public and businesses took things for granted.

“We need tougher compliance measures in the economic sector or to increase the restrictions (that are in place). We also need strong social discipline in the community.

“We are not far from them (such as the US and the UK, which experienced a surge in Covid-19 cases) if we take things for granted,” Dr Noor Hisham told the New Straits Times.

He, however, responded in the negative when asked if the government would enforce a “strict lockdown” after Feb 4, saying it would depend on the Covid-19 situation, as well as evaluation and discussions involving the Health Ministry, the National Security Council and other ministries and agencies.

“We are monitoring the situation closely.”

Health experts said a shutdown or strict lockdown on all economic activities might be necessary if cases spiralled out of control.

Epidemiologist and bio-statistician, Associate Professor Dr Malina Osman, said it might be inevitable if there was not much improvement.

“We have observed an increasing pattern of cumulative active cases since November.

“The circuit breaker, which is necessary to prevent possible hospital overload during that time, was replaced with a more tolerant approach by allowing interstate travel.

“By reviewing current data and the expected magnitude of the spread of the virus within the community, I think ‘shutdown/ strict lockdown’ may be inevitable.”

Malaysian Public Health Physicians Association president Datuk Dr Zainal Ariffin Omar agreed with Dr Noor Hisham and Dr Malina on the need to take tougher measures for the economic sector.

“If the situation surpasses our healthcare capacity (number of beds in the quarantine centre, number of beds in hospitals, number of Intensive Care Unit beds, or when mortality is too high), then total lockdown or a circuit breaker may be needed.

“This should be a desperate measure (to stem the outbreak),” said Dr Zainal.

On whether MCO 2.0 was enough to flatten the curve, Dr Zainal said time was needed to evaluate the effectiveness of the measures in place.

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“Perhaps there is a need to revise the objectives of the MCO 2.0.

“If it means closing schools, mosques and office operations when the causes (Covid-19) are not within those places, then the MCO may fail.

“But give two weeks for us to see the impact (of the measures).”

Dr Malina said the areas that showed good compliance with the SOP, as well as enforcement, should be allowed to operate as usual.

“As an example, there should be no issues involving activities in government departments, private companies or those related to mosques, which are regulated by proper appointment, conditions and strict SOP.”

The public, she added, should continuously be furnished with updated information, and relevant and transparent data.

“For example, we need actual locations or names of the cluster or case distribution, how many residents in our areas are being quarantined or treated, pattern and number of active cases in each locality specific to the local hospital capability to receive Covid-19 patients, as well as any change in the protocols, SOP or management of patients.”

After registering the highest-ever daily figures at 4,275 cases on Saturday, the number of daily infections up to noon yesterday dropped to 3,346.

The new cases brought the total cumulative cases to 183,801, of which, 41,677 are active cases.

Dr Noor Hisham said Malaysia also recorded a higher number of recoveries at 4,427, bringing the total number of recoveries to 141,446.

Selangor, he said, recorded the highest number of cases at 950, followed by Sabah (431) Kuala Lumpur (390) and Johor (378).

The death toll continued to rise to 678 after 11 more fatalities were reported to the Crisis Preparedness and Response Centre. Two of the victims, Dr Noor Hisham said, were in their 30s.

He said the youngest was a 34-year-old man, who was tagged as case 175,859.

The patient, an asthmatic, died at Melaka Hospital.

The other patient was a 36-year-old woman suffering from high-blood pressure and obesity. She was a patient in Sibu Hospital, Sarawak.

The other nine deaths involved patients aged between 60 and 91.- NST

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