Malaysian Expert Fears Possible Coronavirus Epicentres Outside Wuhan

Countries like Japan have reported “unlinkable” cases of Covid-19, which could be taken to mean the coronavirus could spread in communities.

KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 21 — Despite the record drop in new confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus worldwide, a Malaysian expert is concerned about the rise of new epicentres outside Wuhan, China.

Infectious diseases specialist Dr Christopher Lee said a number of countries have already begun showing “worrying signs” like Japan, which has been reporting unlinkable cases of the new Covid-19.

These cases, the former Health deputy director-general in charge of research and technical support said, are not linked to travelling to China or from having met someone who has tested positive for the virus.

“And that is a concern,” Dr Lee said during a press conference at the Malaysian Medical Association (MMA) House today. “If it’s not linked, then we are concerned that they might be spread in the community.”

South Korea is already facing such a scenario, he said, noting that it has reported one of the biggest clusters of Covid-19 cases from a church, with over 30 people being infected during a short timeframe.

“And of course, closer to home, what we are little bit more worried about is…there are at least eight cases that they cannot link yet (in Singapore).

“They are still doing contact tracing; perhaps they will find a link for some of these cases today or tomorrow, but they are still trying to link them… and that is a worrying sign — if there are more and more unlinked cases in Singapore, then there is concern for us, obviously.”

On a positive note, there has been a tremendous decline in the number of confirmed cases of Covid-19 in China, in Wuhan especially, where the outbreak originated from, Dr Lee noted, with contact tracing in Malaysia up to mark.

Reuters reported yesterday that China’s central Hubei province, the epicentre of the new coronavirus outbreak, recorded the lowest number of new confirmed cases since January 25.

“I think, clearly, we have done well up to now, there’s no question about it, and I’m not just praising my previous bosses,” he said. “We have managed to keep the cases down to 22.”

Singapore, on the other hand, despite having a lot more cases and work to do for contact tracing efforts to be carried out, has been recognised for a “gold standard” of service, he said.

But Dr Lee recommended taking seriously the advice of Health Minister Dzulkefly Ahmad and World Health Organization (WHO) director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus about not being complacent.

He also said authorities should no longer focus on containing the Covid-19 outbreak in China, as Chinese tourists are no longer flying out of the country.

“China may not be the biggest threat,” he said. “We have to be prepared that it can still explore, not in Wuhan anymore, but in other places.”

“I think it’s important for us to keep watching the progress in these few countries — there might be new countries coming up with problems,” he added. “And if they are able to control their numbers, then, of course, it is good for us.

“If the situation in these few countries continues to get worse, then we have to be more prepared.”

Dr Lee, meanwhile, urged general practitioners (GP) to be prepared for the possibility that suspected cases of Covid-19 would “inadvertently” show up at their doorsteps instead of at selected screening government hospitals.

This is key so that they don’t “wander around” and infect more people, he said and protects the GPs and their staff as well.

“We recommend to go to the 57 hospitals but not everyone knows the guidelines. They might not think they are at risk, so they go to a GP because they normally go to a GP.

“But it’s a big country,” he recognised. “Not everyone reads and understands all these guidelines.

In Malaysia, anyone who visits China and returns within 14 days with symptoms of fever and sore throat is encouraged to go to any of the 57 screening government hospitals to be tested for Covid-19.

If patients test positive, they are sent to one of 26 government hospitals for admission and to be isolated.

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