Covid-19 May Spike During Raya With Sudden Reopening: Epidemiologist

Dr Nirmala Bhoo Pathy says Malaysia needs time to train companies and workers to ensure safe distancing measures are implemented effectively.

KUALA LUMPUR, May 1 — An epidemiologist warned the government today that Malaysia could see a new wave of Covid-19 cases, possibly during Hari Raya, with the abrupt end of most lockdown measures on May 4.

Dr Nirmala Bhoo Pathy, a public health medicine specialist and associate professor of epidemiology at Universiti Malaya, questioned if the standard operating procedures (SOP) on safe distancing have been developed together with industries and if these guidelines have been tested to check for any improvements if needed.

“We are heading down a slippery slope,” Dr Nirmala told CodeBlue.

“The SOPs are mere documents. If no training and engagement is done, we are bound to fail. We are undoing all our sacrifices from previous Movement Control Orders (MCOs).”

She projected a peak of Covid-19 cases around Hari Raya late this month that could potentially overwhelm Malaysia’s health care system, after the Conditional Movement Control Order (CMCO) takes effect next Monday.

Malaysia has been reporting new Covid-19 cases daily in the double-digits for over two weeks since April 17. A total of 1,758 active infectious cases, meaning those still in hospital, and 103 deaths from Covid-19 have been reported as of today.

Dr Nirmala stressed that Malaysia did not need “forever” to prepare for new behaviours on safe distancing, saying that companies which are well-prepared for reopening could gauge how long it takes to train staff on these measures.

She proposed public-private partnerships between the government and large corporations to train smaller firms on how to implement proper safe distancing SOP in the workplace.

The epidemiologist highlighted a video on Texas Instruments Malaysia Sdn Bhd, which produces chips for medical devices, that showed how the company implemented safe distancing guidelines in the workplace.

“It will be fantastic if we have a programme where successful corporate companies are invited by the Ministry of International Trade and Industry, Malaysia to mentor SMEs (small and medium enterprises) to empower them in implementing physical distancing measures and developing standard operating protocols to maintain safety and health at workplace during the pandemic.

“Offer tax deductions to the companies who come forward to perform their corporate social responsibility. Win win!”

When asked if the Ministry of Health (MOH) should provide Covid-19 tests to anyone, Dr Nirmala said testing guidelines do not have to change as health authorities are already testing people with influenza-like illnesses.

“What needs to be done is that all Covid hospitals, including the non-MOH hospitals, may need to surge up their capacity again.”

Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin announced earlier today that most Malaysian business sectors would be reopened three days later on May 4, subject to health guidelines on social distancing, while people would be allowed to resume their social lives, but schools and educational institutions would remain closed. Activities related to certain business sectors that involve close contact among people would also remain prohibited, like cinemas, weddings, and gyms.

Mass gatherings also would still be prohibited, including religious gatherings at places of worship, while interstate travel would not be allowed, including during Hari Raya celebrations.

The prime minister’s announcement came after informal workers lost their source of income during the six-week lockdown and business groups highlighted retrenchments of possibly up to two million people, as various businesses like hotels and media companies shuttered.

Health director-general Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah told a press conference today that areas reporting new Covid-19 outbreaks will be put under an Enhanced Movement Control Order (EMCO), a total lockdown, even after the economy reopens on May 4, while Malaysian borders would remain closed.

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