KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 10 — Universiti Malaya’s (UM) suspension of face-to-face lectures because of the novel coronavirus global outbreak will simply intensify panic in Malaysia, a paediatrician said.
Dr Musa Mohd Nordin told CodeBlue that it was a “totally unacceptable” decision from a “premier tertiary institution” in the country.
“I bet this was not done in consultation with some of our best brains in the medical faculty,” said the consultant paediatrician.
“The least the VC (vice-chancellor) ought to do is to consult our top guns in public health, computational epidemiologists and IDs (infectious disease experts) in the medical faculty and I’m pretty sure they will counsel her/him to rescind the directive!”
CodeBlue broke the news last Friday about UM’s decision to replace all face-to-face classes with online sessions from February 17 to 23, with lectures resuming as usual from February 24, as a response to the 2019-nCoV outbreak that has seen 18 confirmed infections in Malaysia as of today.
On Twitter, Dr Musa urged Health Minister Dzulkefly Ahmad to rescind the cancellation of face-to-face lectures, tutorials, and labs in the public university.
He also pointed out that Segi University, which purportedly hosts the largest number of students from China, and the Petaling district health office were managing new students arriving from China, where the new strain of coronavirus originated from.
Prof Dr Adeeba Kamarulzaman, dean of UM’s Faculty of Medicine, told her faculty that the university administration’s decision to suspend face-to-face lectures was “not only unnecessary and disruptive, but will also heighten the already irrational fear and panic in the community.”
She said she believed the decision was made because of a large number of students arriving from mainland China at other faculties.
“Given that we don’t have foreign students at our Faculty but more importantly there is no necessity for such measures to be taken, classes at FOM and clinical teaching will continue as usual,” Dr Adeeba said in an email last Friday to the Faculty of Medicine’s (FOM) mailing list for staff and students, sighted by CodeBlue.
“Please ensure that the infection control measures that have been put in place are strictly observed especially routine and frequent hand hygiene.”
Many Malaysians have been asking on Facebook when their universities would follow UM’s decision to cancel face-to-face classes, amid rising anxiety about coronavirus in the country, even though most of those infected are likely to recover from the severe acute respiratory infection caused by 2019-nCoV.
Infectious diseases expert Dr Christopher Lee supported UM, saying that his biggest concern was about the coronavirus situation in Singapore that raised its outbreak response level to Orange last Friday.
The Orange level, according to Channel News Asia, was also used during the 2009 H1N1 swine flu pandemic. Singaporeans have gone on panic shopping sprees, buying essentials like toilet paper, tinned food, and instant noodles.
“If we implement these interventions by the time it explodes here, it would be less impactful,” Dr Lee told CodeBlue.
“Activities that need to be done face-to-face, then proceed, but explore ways to make interaction safer. That’s just prudent,” added the former Health deputy director-general in charge of research and technical support.
Health director-general Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah announced yesterday the recovery of a third coronavirus patient in Malaysia — this time a 63-year-old Chinese national at Kuala Lumpur Hospital who tested negative for 2019-nCoV twice after receiving symptomatic treatment. The man did not need antiviral drugs.
Out of the 18 confirmed 2019-nCoV cases in Malaysia, six are Malaysians while the remaining 12 are Chinese nationals. The 18th patient reported earlier today was a 31-year-old Malaysian man who worked in Macau and a history of travelling to mainland China, before returning to Malaysia last February 1. The 17th patient reported yesterday is a 65-year-old Malaysian woman, the mother-in-law of another Malaysian patient.
According to Dr Noor Hisham, the 17th case, who has other conditions like high blood pressure, diabetes, and heart disease, had direct contact with the ninth coronavirus patient as they ate meals together during Chinese New Year late last month.
The novel coronavirus killed 811 people in mainland China as of yesterday, the National Health Commission was quoted saying, as the death toll from the new viral strain now tops the total number of deaths during the 2002-03 SARS outbreak. Two people died from 2019-nCoV outside mainland China — one in the Philippines and the other in Hong Kong.
Al-Jazeera reported that coronavirus infections in China have increased to over 37,000 cases, while at least 25 countries have confirmed cases.