KUALA LUMPUR, June 15 — The Guardian reported an expert explaining how Malaysia’s efficient response to Covid-19 controlled the epidemic while neighbouring countries experienced a staggering number of cases and deaths.
Dr Fifa Rahman — who reviewed Malaysia’s handling of the pandemic for the Drugs for Neglected Diseases initiative (DNDi), a global drug research non-profit — said that Malaysia conducted meetings as early as last December to prepare a response, even before China reported an epidemic in the central city of Wuhan in January.
In Malaysia, she said, reagents needed for diagnostic tests were ordered early, and plans were made to reorganise hospitals in the event of a large outbreak.
The Guardian also reported that Malaysia’s movement restrictions were strict. During the first phase of the Movement Control Order (MCO) that was implemented on March 18, only one person per family was permitted to go outside to purchase groceries, and people were not allowed out for daily exercise.
Mistakes, however, have also been made, said the UK newspaper, which highlighted Malaysia’s failure to prevent mass religious gatherings. Malaysia’s biggest spike in Covid-19 cases followed the tabligh gathering in Sri Petaling mosque in Kuala Lumpur in late February and early March that was attended by over 15,000 people, including international participants.
As of yesterday, the Ministry of Health (MOH) reported 3,375 Covid-19 cases in the Sri Petaling cluster, comprising 46 per cent of Malaysia’s total 7,346 confirmed cases.
On the whole, Malaysia’s response has been led by health experts rather than politicians, Dr Fifa told The Guardian.
“There was a clear conflict but that conflict was good,” she was quoted saying.
“In the UK there has been a pretty close synergy between political leaders and technical experts. I don’t know if that results in better global health responses,” she added.
She noted that Health director-general Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah had corrected Health Minister Dr Adham Baba’s wrong claim made on TV that drinking water could cure Covid-19.
Deputy Health Minister I Noor Azmi Ghazali was also fined after he was photographed breaking the MCO, which Dr Fifa said sent a strong message to the public
The Guardian noted that when the Covid-19 outbreak began in Wuhan, Southeast Asia was considered as a vulnerable region. This was due to the possibility of Chinese tourists flooding the region during Chinese New Year.
Other Southeast Asian countries like the Philippines, Indonesia, and Singapore have recorded a surge of Covid-19 cases, and are still struggling to control outbreaks. The Philippines and Indonesia have reported over 1,000 and 2,000 deaths respectively from Covid-19. Singapore has reported over 40,000 Covid-19 cases, mostly from overcrowded workers’ dormitories.
But other countries in the region, said The Guardian, have mostly avoided a devastating impact from Covid-19. Vietnam and Cambodia did not record any deaths from the virus, whereas Thailand recorded 58 fatalities, followed by Malaysia at 121 reported deaths from Covid-19.
Dale Fisher, professor at the National University of Singapore and chair of the Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network at the World Health Organization, stated that public awareness was the main aspect that led to successful handling of Covid-19.
“When you have any country with a weak leadership then people get confused. They’re not sure what to do and who to believe, and then you legitimise ignorance,” Fisher was quoted saying.