KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 22 —- Even if a Covid-19 vaccine surfaces, people still need to maintain health standard operating procedures (SOPs), Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah said today.
The Health director-general said that practicing physical distancing of at least one metre, or putting on a face mask, and practicing hand washing can break Covid-19 transmission by 85 per cent.
“Even with a vaccine, you still need to practice physical distancing. Now, the vaccine means that you are fighting the war in your body. Then, you need the vaccine to create antibodies to fight the war.
“Why not take the fight outside the body? Physical distancing of one metre that is much better,” Dr Noor Hisham told a press conference.
He said that besides Covid-19 infection, measles, chicken pox, and hand, foot and mouth disease have decreased by more than 60 per cent with physical distancing.
Dr Noor Hisham during his press conference reporting on Malaysia’s daily Covid-19 cases said that although infections like Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome–related coronavirus (MERS-CoV) do not have a vaccine, the infection was still eliminated.
“We need the cooperation from the public as well as from our frontlines to make sure they comply with the SOPs to break the chain of infection.”
According to Dr Noor Hisham, Malaysia is in negotiations with COVAX — a global Covid-19 vaccine access plan co-led by the World Health Organization (WHO) — and countries like China to procure a vaccine. COVAX aims to provide two billion doses to participating countries by the end of 2021, enough to immunise 20 per cent of these nations’ populations. Vaccinating just 20 per cent of a country’s population will make herd immunity from Covid-19 unlikely.
Science, Technology and Innovation Minister Khairy Jamaluddin announced last Saturday that Malaysia will join COVAX. The Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation said that the Malaysian government is also preparing government-to-government agreements with the Chinese government to procure Covid-19 vaccines developed in China. MOH, according to MOSTI, has also signed non-disclosure agreements with several international pharmaceutical companies running Phase 3 testing on Covid-19 candidate vaccines.
However, as of yesterday, Malaysia still has not been listed among the 64 higher-income economies that have formally signed up with COVAX, whereas neighbouring countries like Singapore and Brunei are part of the list.
COVAX coordinators are expecting 38 economies to sign in the coming days, but the higher income governments have to provide an upfront payment to reserve vaccine doses by October 9.
Dr Noor Hisham also pointed out that Malaysian hospital facilities are not being used in full capacity to treat Covid-19 patients. Although Malaysia has 1,365 ventilators, only two are being used for Covid-19 patients in the intensive care unit (ICU).
“But if our cases, for example if we have 10,000 cases, then it is difficult for public health to come in and to break the chain of transmission,” Dr Noor Hisham said, while stressing the importance of public health measures to break the chain of Covid-19 infection.
Besides that, he pointed out that the Ministry of Health (MOH) is worried in case there is a rise of coronavirus infections locally in the upcoming months, as there is already an increase in cases in countries like South Korea, Japan, Australia among others, even before winter.
Health experts from the United States have expressed their fear that there could be a surge in coronavirus cases in the Northern Hemisphere when the season changes. They said that respiratory illnesses tend to thrive during cooler weather, as colder and drier conditions strongly affect the transmission of flu-like illnesses.
However, Dr Noor Hisham once again stressed that borders should be tightened to prevent the spread of infection to Malaysia.
Dr Noor Hisham also said that for the upcoming state elections in Sabah, those who have tested Covid-19 positive are not allowed to go out to vote.
On the other hand, those who have been exposed to positive patients and are under quarantine may get time off to go and practice their voting rights.
“In the elections, we also have protocols in place in the election centre. More importantly, we also have a reserved, isolated election counter for them and two of our staff from MOH, full personal protective equipment (PPE), will be there to make sure they can exercise their rights in terms of voting.”