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A family wearing masks at the Senai International Airport yesterday. BERNAMA PIC
A family wearing masks at the Senai International Airport yesterday. BERNAMA PIC

KUALA LUMPUR: The healthcare system is equipped to handle possible cases of coronavirus infection resulting from an expected influx of tourists over the Chinese New Year.

Deputy Health Minister Dr Lee Boon Chye said the ministry had identified 26 government and specialist hospitals that were able to handle, monitor and treat coronavirus-related cases.

“They include all the state hospitals and major specialist hospitals with an infectious disease unit. Every state will have at least one hospital that can provide isolation and treatment to patients.

“We would prefer them (patients) to be treated in public hospitals unless private hospitals have the facilities to provide isolation (for patients) and take protective measures for staff.

“I think most private hospitals are not equipped with that,” he told the New Straits Times yesterday.

Dr Lee said hospitals that could handle coronavirus-related cases were required to meet certain requirements, including identifying, monitoring, assessing and evaluating such cases, with patient isolation procedures in place. These measures, he said, were in line with the ministry’s standard operating procedure for surveillance of potential outbreak of infectious disease.

“There are a few requirements (to handle such cases). First, the patients need to be isolated. Second, the healthcare providers should have adequate protection with special protective gear to keep them from being infected.

“And, finally, the facilities should have the capacity to perform contact tracing and monitoring.”

The United States has been identified as the fifth country with a reported case of the virus infection outside China, raising concerns of the imminent spread of the virus to Malaysia.

It is believed to have also spread to Thailand, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan.

At least nine people have died and more than 440 affected by the virus.

While most of the cases were reported in Wuhan, it has also been detected in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangdong province, near Hong Kong.

According to the United States-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are no specific treatments for illnesses caused by human coronaviruses. It said most people with common human coronavirus illness would recover on their own.

Patients can relieve their symptoms by taking pain and fever medications.

“Use a room humidifier or take hot showers to ease sore throat and cough. If you are mildly sick, you should drink plenty of liquid, stay at home and rest,” CDC said on its website.

Dr Lee Boon Chye
Dr Lee Boon Chye

The World Health Organisation (WHO) is expected to hold an emergency committee meeting on the coronavirus in China, where its International Health Regulations Emergency Committee will determine whether the outbreak constitutes a “public health emergency of international concern” and seek recommendations on ways to manage it.

Dr Lee said pending information from China and WHO, the treatment for coronavirus would, at the moment, depend on the symptoms that the patients presented.

“I think we have to wait for some time to know if an anti-viral vaccine or medication can be effective or not.

“We have to wait for China and the World Health Organisation’s instructions on that. In the meantime, patients will be treated based on their symptoms.”

Common signs of infection include respiratory symptoms, fever, cough, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties. In more severe cases, infection can cause pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure and even death.

The ministry, Dr Lee said, had issued a circular to government and private healthcare facilities to boost the monitoring of respiratory conditions.

Medical facilities have also been asked to immediately report cases of coronavirus.

On calls to suspend flights coming in to Malaysia from high-risk areas in China, Dr Lee said any decision should be made following WHO’s instructions on ways to manage the virus.

Based on current information, WHO does not recommend any restriction of travel or trade.

Countries are encouraged to continue strengthening their preparedness for health emergencies in line with the International Health Regulations (2005).

Standard recommendations to prevent infection spread include regular handwashing, covering the mouth and nose when coughing and sneezing, and cooking meat and eggs thoroughly before consumption.

People have also been advised to avoid close contact with anyone showing symptoms of respiratory illness such as coughing and sneezing.

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