KUALA LUMPUR: Medical experts are urging for faster and urgent action in handling the Covid-19 outbreak in the country.
This follows the World Health Organisation’s declaration of the disease as a pandemic on Wednesday, and the tabligh gathering at the Seri Petaling Mosque here recently, which sparked a new cluster transmission of Covid-19 in the country.
Dr Ong Hean Teik, past chairman of the Penang branch of the Malaysian Medical Association, said the situation in Malaysia was severe and this warranted stricter measures.
This, he said, included banning mass gatherings, postponing weddings and events, as well as closing down schools temporarily in high-risk areas.
“The virus is present in the community. We not only have cluster cases (sparked by Cases 26 and 131), but we have also entered the community transmission stage, which calls for the authorities to boost its emergency response mechanism.
“Issuing an advisory is not enough. The Health Ministry should be clear in conveying the seriousness of the outbreak.
“Malaysia was successful in containing the spread during the first wave. Case 26 changed this. Since Cases 26 and 131 contracted the virus in Malaysia, isn’t it enough to indicate community spread?
“People need to be informed to contain the virus.”
Dr Ong, a consultant cardiologist and past president of Penang Medical Practitioners’ Society, said medical practitioners, including head of departments at public hospitals, had raised concern about the shortage of Covid-19 test kits.
This, he said, was causing a backlog in case detection, especially following the tabligh gathering where thousands of people were scrambling to get tested.
He questioned if the ministry had adequate resources in place if the outbreak worsened.
“WHO’s data suggests that 80 per cent of Covid-19 infections are mild or asymptomatic, 15 per cent are severe infections requiring oxygen and five per cent are critical infections requiring ventilation.
“How many ventilators and extracorporeal membrane oxygenation machines do we have for those with respiratory failures? Do we have sufficient protective gear for medical personnel?”
Former Malaysian Medical Association president Datuk Dr N.K.S. Tharmaseelan agreed that Malaysia had entered the community transmission stage. He advised the public to take extra precautions.
Malaysian Public Health Medicine Specialist Association president Datuk Dr Zainal Ariffin Omar said the Health Ministry should make public the list of places that Covid-19 patients had visited, worked at or areas they lived in.
This, he said, was so that the public could practise social distancing.
Paediatrician Datuk Dr Musa Mohd Nordin said the asymptomatic transmission of Covid-19 made total containment difficult and problematic.
He said there might be a need to realign and reconsider some of the Health Ministry’s strategies of containment and mitigation.
“I do not think we need to follow the lockdown methodology of China and Italy. South Korea has been successful in reducing the number of confirmed cases of Covid-19 from 900 per day to fewer than 100 per day.
“We can learn from South Korea’s strategy. We must ensure that there are sufficient diagnostic test kits.
“South Korea undertakes 12,000 to 20,000 tests per day.
“To facilitate testing, South Korea has set up drive-through Covid-19 test centres. This drive-through model has been replicated by KPJ Damansara Specialist Hospital (KPJ-DSH) and Sungai Buloh Hospital.
“KPJ-DSH has operated drive-through test centres at the premises of government-linked companies to test those who had close contact with Case 26.”
Dr Musa said it was crucial to be transparent in information sharing because access to accurate information could debunk fake news and fearmongering.
“It empowers the people to be active partners of the Health Ministry and the government in the fight against the outbreak.”