KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 18 — An infectious diseases expert urged Putrajaya to prepare mitigation plans for a potential novel coronavirus outbreak in Singapore, amid hundreds of thousands of daily Malaysian travels to the neighbouring country.
Dr Christopher Lee, former Health deputy director-general in charge of research and technical support, told Malaysiakini that mitigation plans must go beyond the Ministry of Health (MOH) to various sectors in government and society.
“My only advice is we need to plan in case the situation escalates.
“Because to implement these things is not so easy, it is going to take a lot of planning and coordination between the different agencies and different sectors of civil society,” he was quoted saying.
Dr Takeshi Kasai, World Health Organization (WHO) regional director for the Western Pacific, also told Malaysia last week to prepare for the possibility of wider Covid-19 transmission, suggesting possibly closing schools or postponing mass gatherings.
The Straits Times reported yesterday that Singapore has confirmed 77 coronavirus infections, of which 53 are still hospitalised. Five infection clusters were previously identified. Singapore has the third-highest number of coronavirus cases, after Japan with 619 cases and mainland China, the epicentre of the outbreak with over 72,000 confirmed infections and almost 1,900 deaths, according to South China Morning Post.
Dr Lee reportedly expressed concern that the coronavirus situation in Singapore could lead to sustained local human-to-human transmission, when health authorities may be unable to determine the link of transmission.
“By the time you have this sustained unlinked cases in Singapore, which so far they have not got any yet, how many hundreds of thousands of people would have gone up and down the Causeway over that period of time?
“The horse may have left the stable already.”
Dr Lee also told Malaysiakini that Asian transport hubs like Japan and Singapore could be the next Covid-19 epicentres.
“If the public health (officials) in these countries do their job well, the more unlinked cases you have that means there could be a new epicentre to blast (the disease).”
As of yesterday, 22 Covid-19 cases were confirmed in Malaysia, of which nine, including a Malaysian, have recovered and been discharged. Thirteen are still receiving treatment in hospitals.