KUALA LUMPUR, March 12 — A coronavirus patient in Malaysia linked to neighbouring Brunei’s first Covid-19 case has seen at least two confirmed cases in the country, health officials said today.
This comes even as Malaysia maintains that it is more than ready to contain and face the novel coronavirus outbreak in the country, despite the newly announced World Health Organization (WHO) pandemic classification.
Health Minister Dr Adham Baba said close contact tracing work done by his ministry on Patient 131 has identified two confirmed cases of coronavirus — one in Tawau, Sabah, and another in Kuantan, Pahang — linked to a public gathering they attended at a mosque in Selangor from February 27 to March 1.
“We are now tracking for them,” he said at a press conference at the Ministry of Health (MOH) Training Institute after a working visit to Sungai Buloh Hospital, referring to the rest of the crowd of 10,000 that attended the event two weeks ago.
“I am appealing to all that attended the tabligh gathering at Masjid Sri Petaling to come forward for us to do testing,” he added, noting that the ministry does not know the identities of everyone who attended the event.
However, he stopped short of calling for the suspension of Friday prayers or public gatherings at places of worship, citing De Facto Religious Affairs Minister Zulkifli Mohamad Al-Bakri, who today said there was no need to do this for now.
The WHO earlier today declared the novel coronavirus outbreak as a pandemic — a term which the public health agency describes as a serious disease that is spreading in an uncontrolled way globally. It hasn’t done this in about 11 years.
Malaysia has reported 149 cases of coronavirus so far — a figure which Dr Adham said remains unchanged so far, but will depend on the daily Covid-19 updates by Health director-general Dr Noor Hisham, yet to be released as of press time.
Two clusters of novel coronavirus cases have been reported in Malaysia, the first of which has been successfully contained, according to Dr Adham. The second cluster, however, is worrying, he said, noting that it has spread to as far as Brunei.
A 53-year-old Bruneian man returned from Kuala Lumpur on March 3 and started showing symptoms four days later. A total of 11 cases have been reported there, all linked to a Malaysian mass gathering of Islamic missionaries that they all attended.
It was yesterday revealed that about 5,000 Malaysians had attended the tabligh convention at Masjid Sri Petaling from Feb 27 and March 1, including some from Singapore.
Meanwhile, Dr Noor Adham said preparations by MOH to face the coronavirus pandemic are at the “highest levels”, noting that health officials here have been able to contain cases from spreading.
He said even though Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) for frontline health care workers such as face masks are dwindling, steps are being taken to ensure that its stock supply is sufficient for all.
“I’ve been informed that we have enough beds, wards, and staff at Sungai Buloh Hospital for the coordination of positive Covid-19 cases, or persons-under-investigation,” Dr Adham added, referring to the newly designated national infectious diseases centre.
“And in our country — don’t worry — we have 12 (government) hospitals that can treat Covid-19 and which have laboratories… and we have 57 hospitals in the entire country that can do (Covid-19) screenings.
“This is the latest status that we can inform (the public): we are fully ready when there occurs, what is described by the WHO, a Covid-19 pandemic.”
On whether Malaysia will include more countries with Covid-19 outbreaks on its existing travel ban, Dr Adham said the Cabinet has only decided to do this for travellers from Iran, Italy, and South Korea, and some parts of China — for now.
He also explained the decision to include some territories such as Hokkaido in Japan on the list is based on the Covid-19 mortality rate, not just the number of coronavirus cases that have been confirmed in that particular area.
Dr Adham also said there was no sporadic cases in the country, only clusters, despite Dr Noor Hisham’s earlier assertion that one sporadic case has been identified from Covid-19 screening among 600 cases of influenza-like-illness or severe acute respiratory infection and with no history of traveling to Covid-19 stricken countries. MOH too has reportedly deleted a tweet on this.
“Okay, this is not sporadic case,” Dr Adham said when asked about Dr Noor Hisham’s statement. “Sporadic means within the country. We have clusters that are interrelated.”
Asked again about the statement, Dr Adham replied: “No, only DG will give a statement later with press release, to clarify.”
Update at 9.15pm:
Dr Noor Hisham announced that nine new Covid-19 cases were confirmed, bringing the total in Malaysia to 158. Six patients have recovered, making the total discharged from hospital 32 cases. Three are being treated in the intensive care unit.
He also urged those who attended the Seri Petaling Mosque event to contact the nearest state health office to give samples if they are at high risk of contracting the coronavirus.