KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia had already implemented necessary measures to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) before the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) announcement on Thursday that the outbreak constitutes an international emergency.
Deputy Health Minister Dr Lee Boon Chye also stressed that the ministry will continue to look into whether there is a need to introduce additional measures to contain the outbreak.
“Malaysia is already implementing what is necessary (for) the Public Health Emergencies of International Concern or PHEIC (as declared by the WHO on the 2019-nCoV outbreak). The ministry will review the need for additional measures daily, depending on developments surrounding the epidemic,” he said.
Dr Lee was asked to comment on the move by the WHO to designate the 2019-nCoV outbreak, which has killed 212 people and infected almost 10,000 in China and abroad, as a PHEIC.
WHO director-general Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus made the declaration after chairing the International Health Regulations Committee in Geneva, on Jan 30.
The WHO, said Dr Tedros, noted that there are now a total of almost 200 2019-nCoV cases in 18 countries outside China, including eight cases of human-to-human transmission in Germany, Japan, Vietnam and the United States.
“We don’t know what sort of damage this #2019nCoV virus could do if it were to spread in a country with a weaker health system. We must act now to help countries prepare for that possibility.
“For all of these reasons, I am declaring a public health emergency of international concern over the global outbreak of 2019-nCoV,” he declared.
Dr Tedros however said that there is “no reason” for any of the international travel or trade restrictions announced in recent days, such as flight suspensions, border closures and quarantine for apparently healthy travellers.
As for Malaysia, Dr Lee said that current policy to combat the 2019-nCoV outbreak still stands, and includes the suspension of all visa facilities for Chinese tourists from Hubei province.
“So far, existing policies such as no flights from Hubei province, which includes Wuhan, as well as visa for Chinese nationals from the province suspended, still stand,” he said.
The Prime Minister’s Office on Monday announced that all visa facilities for Chinese tourists from Hubei province had been suspended. This includes electronic travel registration and information facilities, visa-free entry, visa on arrival, e-visa and manual visa applications.
It said that the decision was made due to the spike in coronavirus infections and deaths.
“Malaysia, together with Asean nations, will cooperate in fighting this epidemic,” Dr Lee said, referring to a statement issued by the Health Sector of Asean, yesterday.
The Health Sector of Asean, together with counterparts from China, Japan and South Korea said that it had mobilised regional cooperation mechanisms to respond to the rapidly-evolving threat of the coronavirus since the first cluster of unexplained pneumonia cases in late Dec 2019 was reported.
The mechanisms, it said, reinforced national whole-of-government efforts to enhance readiness and response measures to mitigate, if not eliminate, the threats of the coronavirus in order to protect the 649 million people in Asean.
“Since health officials from China first shared information on the disease, the Asean Emergency Operations Centre Network for public health emergencies (Asean EOC Network), led by Malaysia, and with the support of the Asean Secretariat, have been sharing daily situational updates.
“They also provide information on prevention, detection and response measures to Asean Senior Officials for Health Development (SOMHD) of Asean and China, Japan and South Korea (Plus Three Countries); as well as to Contact Points of the Asean EOC Network and the Asean Plus Three Field Epidemiology Training Network (Asean+3 FETN).
“This is on top of the real-time information sharing through mobile instant messaging within the Asean EOC Net
work, consisting of Disease Prevention and Control officials of Asean Member States,” the Health Sector of Asean said.