KUALA LUMPUR, April 27 – Malaysian health authorities do not expect Covid-19 to be fully eliminated but to continue transmission occasionally, even as today marked the 11th consecutive day of new cases below 100.
“We anticipate that Covid-19 will continue in terms of infection, but we need to contain and control the infection from time to time,” Health director-general Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah told a press briefing.
He also explained that the action plan for the Movement Control Order (MCO) comprises four points – two for public and two for government — though he did not specify how health authorities or the government would decide on lifting the partial lockdown.
The actions by the government are strengthening border control and movement control, whereas the public is urged to practice social distancing by staying home, as well as maintaining good personal hygiene.
“If we open up the border, certainly tourists coming into the country may bring the virus. So, border control will be strengthened,” Dr Noor Hisham said, adding that Malaysia has managed to stop imported cases.
All Malaysians returning from abroad are put under compulsory quarantine at various centres for 14 days, including 144 who tested positive for the coronavirus.
“Second is movement control. We have looked into MCO phase 1,2 and 3. The most important [mission of the MCO] is actually to flatten the curve. What we have seen is that we have succeeded to flatten the curve. And now, we are in the phase of recovering,” he said, speaking about the second point of the MCO for the government.
The nationwide partial lockdown, he said, has enabled Malaysia to preserve the health care system capacity, as currently Covid-19 patients take up less than 30 per cent of hospital capacity. The number of Covid-19 patients have dropped to 37 in the intensive care unit (ICU) and 17 on ventilator support.
“This means our capacity is enhanced,” he said. “That’s the reason why we need the MCO in the first place.”
As for the plan for the public, Dr Noor Hisham said that as long as there is no vaccine for the coronavirus, which could take a year or two, the public’s precautionary measures are the new norm.
“Third is we don’t have the vaccine yet. The only vaccine is to stay at home and practice social distancing. It can be done by everyone,” he explained.
“Fourth is to maintain good personal hygiene. This is the action plan. We hope that in terms of point three and four, that will continue as part of the new norm.”
The Malaysian government has yet to announce its exit strategy for the nationwide partial lockdown that has crippled the economy, simply extending it for the third time to May 12, nearly two months after it was first introduced on March 18.
The Ministry of Health (MOH) also has not specified how it measures progress in managing the Covid-19 epidemic and how decisions in lifting the lockdown in various areas should be made.
France, on the other hand, is set to present its government plan to Parliament tomorrow on unwinding the lockdown that is of similar duration with Malaysia’s after it was implemented on March 17, due to be lifted on May 11. Other European countries, like Germany, Spain, and Switzerland, have similarly started easing their lockdown measures.
Italy, since imposing a national stay-at-home order on March 9, has also outlined various plans to lift its lockdown from May 4, such as permitting people to move around their own regions, reopening parks, and allowing people to visit their relatives in small numbers.
Earlier this month, MOH outlined six criteria that will need to be fulfilled as an MCO exit strategy.
The six criteria are border controls to prevent imported Covid-19 cases; movement control, like banning mass gatherings; a strong health care system with sufficient beds and ventilators; protection of the vulnerable, like senior citizens, disabled people, cancer patients, and those with underlying health conditions; new behaviours practiced by the people, like social distancing and frequent hand-washing; and controlling Covid-19 clusters in the community.
MOH’s framework in ending the MCO mirrors the WHO’s new guidance for governments looking for exit strategies beyond existing lockdown measures, released a week ago.
Six criteria were identified in WHO’s guidance document to ensure that governments would be able to manage a controlled and deliberate transition from community transmission to a steady state of low level or no transmission.
As at 12pm today, MOH recorded 40 new Covid-19 cases, bringing the total number of cases to 5,820.
“Therefore, the total number of active cases with COVID-19 infection was 1,764 cases. They were isolated and treated,” a statement read.
At the same time, a total of 95 cases have recovered, bringing the total of discharged cases to 3,957 (67.9 per cent of total cases).
One death has been recorded today, bringing total fatalities to 99 cases.
“The 99th death (Patient 4,087) was a 78-year-old male Malaysian citizen with a history of diabetes, hypertension and stroke,” said the statement.