KUALA LUMPUR, March 16 — Malaysia’s novel coronavirus cases surpassed the 500 mark today, health officials announced, but stopped short of calling for a lockdown.
A total of 125 more Covid-19 infections were reported as of noon today, bringing the total number of cases nationwide to 553.
Ninety-five of those new cases are linked to the mass tabligh gathering at the Sri Petaling mosque in Kuala Lumpur, Health Minister Dr Adham Baba said during a daily Covid-19 briefing. Health director-general Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah said yesterday that 243 cases were linked to that event attended by some 16,000 people, including 14,500 Malaysians.
No further details were given about the new cases. The tabligh gathering is believed to be the source of Malaysia’s third Covid-19 cluster, which has seen linked cases in Cambodia, Singapore, and Brunei.
Of the total 553 Covid-19 cases in the country, 511 are being treated, while 42 have recovered. Twelve are currently in intensive care.
“We hope we can discharge more patients, but you have to understand that coronavirus or Covid-19 cases have a 14-day incubation period,” Dr Adham said.
“So, we need to wait for 14 days to see the latest developments,” he told reporters at the Ministry of Health (MOH) in Putrajaya this afternoon.
Dr Adham also said MOH was now at the mitigation phase of the outbreak, designating Sungai Buloh Hospital as the Covid-19 centre, identifying quarantine centres nationwide, increasing lab testing capacity for the virus, and working with non-government organisations and the private sector on the outbreak.
Pressed repeatedly on the need to declare a lockdown as is the case in some Covid-19 hotspot countries, Dr Adham instead passed the buck to Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin.
Dr Adham said Muhyiddin would make an “important announcement” on the matter at 9pm today during the prime minister’s daily address to the nation on the coronavirus.
“As I said earlier, we (MOH) are working at the mitigation stage, even though it is still at a late containment stage,” he added.
He also declined to state what would happen during a lockdown. Areas under lockdown such as Wuhan city, the centre of the outbreak, have shut down all means of public transport and air travel, and not allowing people to exit the country.
Asked on whether there is a sufficient number of medical professionals to treat Covid-19 patients, Dr Adham said more infectious diseases (ID) epidemiologists are needed.
However, he also said there is a sufficient number of ID physicians in every state in the country.
The highest number of Covid-19 cases are in Selangor (144), followed by Kuala Lumpur and Putrajaya (106), and Sabah (57).
Kedah has 31 cases, while Penang has 15, Perak (18), Negri Sembilan (42), Melaka (14), Johor (52), Pahang (19), and Sarawak (21).
Terengganu and Labuan have the lowest number of Covid-19 cases, at four each. Perlis has eight cases.
Meanwhile, Dr Adham once again recommended postponement of mass gatherings and maintaining social distancing as efforts to contain the spread of Covid-19, which has since been declared a pandemic.
He also advised members of the public not to attend such mass gatherings, previously defined by Dr Adham as seeing more than 50 people in attendance.
The public is also advised to postpone plans to travel to Covid-19 hotspots such as certain districts in China, South Korea, Japan, Italy, and Iran.
Besides that, Dr Adham recommended taking steps to maintain optimal levels of cleanliness, which can be achieved through frequent washing of hands with soap or a sanitiser.