Coronavirus: Malaysia must be cautious as it heads to recovery, say experts

PETALING JAYA (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) – With five Malaysian states moving into more relaxed curbs on Monday (July 5), health experts advised that the risk of reopening certain economic sectors must be managed.

Even though Malaysia was poised to accelerate vaccination in July, the health experts said the country must be cautious as it heads to recovery.

International Islamic University Malaysia epidemiologist Professor Dr Jamalludin Ab Rahman said companies must have self-control and a disciplined mindset, even if they were allowed to operate.

“When more industries are allowed to operate, there will be increased mobility. There will be increased movement between districts and states because of the logistics of delivering goods.

“If the company does not understand how important it is to prevent transmission while doing these activities, cases will increase and will start among them.

“If employers and employees, and of course their customers, follow the SOP, we can still limit transmission. So awareness and attitude to prevent infections are important – it shouldn’t be taken lightly,” he said.

Senior Minister (Security Cluster) Ismail Sabri Yaakob said on Saturday that Perlis, Perak, Kelantan, Terengganu and Pahang will be subjected to slightly relaxed curbs from Monday under the second phase of the National Recovery Plan. This includes more sectors being allowed to operate.

Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin had previously said the government will gradually open up the economy and social activities in four phases, based on infection numbers, vaccination rates and the capacity of the healthcare system.

Dr Jamalludin said Malaysia was likely to have at least 40 per cent of its population get at least one dose of vaccine by September if supply remains steady.

Based on the number of PPV (vaccination centres) being planned by the Covid-19 Immunisation Task Force, he believed the authorities can vaccinate at least 15 per cent of the population per month with at least one dose.

According to the Special Committee on Covid-19 Vaccine Supply (JKJAV), about 19.2 per cent of Malaysia’s population have received at least one dose of the vaccine as of July 3.

The JKJAV said 7.8 per cent of the total population – which is 10.8 per cent of the adult population – had received double doses.

Universiti Malaya professor of occupational and public health Dr Victor Hoe said there would always have to be a balance between risks and benefits of reopening certain economic sectors.

“Where more business sectors reopen, there will be a risk of transmission. The data shows that around 65 per cent to 80 percent of our cases are sporadic and that 80 per cent of our patients do not show any symptoms.

“We can minimise the risk by ensuring that we follow the SOP when we are in public areas or workplaces. Businesses should also ensure ventilation in their workplace is adequate to minimise transmission,” he added.

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Universiti Malaya professor of epidemiology and public health Dr Sanjay Rampal said balancing the benefits and cost of national interventions was challenging.

“The major issue we face now is whether we have the economic resilience to weather Covid-19 in the coming years. We have to balance the benefits with the cost of our interventions, and we may not be able to afford many of the SOP moving forward,” he said.

“Besides the three indicators the government looks at on whether a state can move into the next phase of the NRP, there are other factors to consider.

“The SOP should ideally be calibrated based on a combination of factors, including the proportion of community transmission, reproductive number, total positivity ratio and case fatality rates, among others,” he said.

He added that vaccines might have a short-term impact of drastically reducing transmission due to new variants, but he stressed that vaccines were still essential in that they reduce the severity of cases.

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