Sabah Health System Not Collapsing, Four Weeks To Contain State Outbreak: MOH

By CodeBlue | 26 October 2020

In Sabah, Covid-19 bed occupancy rate in hospitals is 52%, ICU bed occupancy rate is 69%, and bed occupancy rate in low-risk quarantine and treatment centres is 28%.

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KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 26 — The Ministry of Health (MOH) today denied claims that Sabah’s health care system was on the verge of collapse amid soaring Covid-19 infections, insisting that hospital beds were sufficient.

Health director-general Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah also said today MOH projected another four weeks to contain the coronavirus outbreak in the country’s poorest state. He previously said two weeks ago on October 9 that the Sabah outbreak may be controlled within three to four weeks.

“It’s not true in Sabah, the health system is collapsing, but we admit it’s more difficult and challenging. However, we are more prepared this time before than in March,” Dr Noor Hisham told a press conference.

“In terms of human resources, facilities, PPE (personal protective equipment) etc, we started preparation much earlier, sending human resource from internal to other states, we sent our PPE, we sent our ventilators, and we increased beds, using Pusat Kuarantin dan Rawatan Risiko Rendah,” he added.

The Health DG said the government has approved emergency procurement for the state, as he called for greater coordination in Sabah among health authorities, the police, the Malaysian Armed Forces, the National Disaster Management Agency (NADMA), and other agencies.

“We’ve seen positive signs in the east coast of Sabah. We think another four weeks, we can contain the infection.”

Dr Noor Hisham also insisted that Sabah’s health care system still has capacity to cope with the surge of Covid-19 cases and MOH has yet to resort to placing positive Covid-19 patients at home, contradicting Sabah state minister Masidi Manjun, who is the state’s Covid-19 spokesperson, who said twice last week that early-stage Covid-19 patients were being treated at home due to the lack of space in low-risk quarantine and treatment centres.

Masidi did not hold his daily press conference on Sabah’s Covid-19 reporting since yesterday, with the Sabah Information Department informing the media that the state’s daily Covid-19 media briefings would be postponed till further notice.

Dr Noor Hisham today released the bed occupancy rates in the nine Covid-19 hospitals and 26 low-risk quarantine and treatment centres in Sabah, admitting that initially bed occupancy rate in the state had reached 70 to 80 per cent. Covid-19 patients in the more serious stages three to five of disease are admitted to hospital, while people who test positive but have no symptoms (stage 1) or mild symptoms (stage 2) are placed in the quarantine centres. The number of patients is calculated by CodeBlue:

FacilityNumber of beds availableBed occupancy rateNumber of Covid-19 patients
Hospitals1,20252%625
Low-risk quarantine and treatment centres4,51128%1,263
TOTAL5,71333%1,888
ICU12869%88 (this figure includes non-Covid patients)

Usage of 193 ventilators in Sabah is at 33 per cent, according to Dr Noor Hisham. He added that MOH was considering setting up another six low-risk quarantine and treatment centres if needed, besides possibly placing stable stage 3 Covid-19 patients in such facilities.

Out of the 1,888 Covid-19 patients currently treated in Sabah, 625, or 33 per cent, are in hospital with more severe disease than those in the quarantine centres. The percentage of sick Covid-19 patients in Sabah hospitals declined from 43 per cent reported by MOH on October 14.

Dr Noor Hisham said 200,000 antigen rapid test kits have been deployed to Sabah to date. He also released figures on the number of health care workers mobilised from within and outside the state:

StatePublic health workersMedical workersTotal
Within Sabah48607655
Outside Sabah109265374
TOTAL1578721,029

CodeBlue highlighted last Friday anecdotal reports from Sabah government doctors about the lack of manpower in Malaysia’s Covid-19 epicentre, as frontliners nearing burnout struggled to cope with a surge of sporadic cases that they described as coming from “everywhere” in “Ground Zero” in the state.

A Queen Elizabeth Hospital doctor in the state capital of Kota Kinabalu also said the tertiary referral hospital’s intensive care unit (ICU) was overwhelmed by the number of severely sick Covid-19 patients, to the extent that critical patients have to wait for up to two days in the emergency department.

Analyst Bridget Welsh and Calvin Cheng wrote in an op-ed on Malaysiakini about an emerging humanitarian Covid-19 crisis in Sabah, warning that the epidemic has hit the state particularly hard, where at least one-third of Sabahans earn household incomes of below RM3,000 monthly, excluding people who lost their jobs. Job listings in Sabah, they said, declined by about 70 per cent this year compared to the same period last year.

“Many Sabahans are starving and more will starve without financial support,” Welsh and Cheng wrote, even as they highlighted that 44 per cent of Sabah’s Covid-19 cases from October 1 to 24 are sporadic infections, while 90 Sabahans have died from the virus as of October 24, a fatality rate over seven times higher than the national average.

National Covid-19 Highlights

MOH reported today an all-time daily high of 1,240 Covid-19 cases, 75 per cent of which were located in Sabah that saw a record 24-hour high 927 infections.

MOH said the Kepayan prison cluster in the Sabah districts of Kota Kinabalu, Papar and Penampang, with 439 new Covid-19 cases reported today, contributed to the record high infections. A total of 508 cases (41 per cent) reported today came from prisons: Kepayan prison cluster (439 cases), Seberang Perai cluster (57 cases), Benteng LD cluster (seven cases), Tapah prison cluster (four cases), and Tembok cluster (one case).

MOH also reported seven new Covid-19 deaths today, all in Sabah, including the first reported fatality of a person with disability, who was blind. The Malaysian man died at age 61 in Tuaran Hospital.

One of the Covid-19 victims in Sabah was a 27-year-old foreign man who was not reported to have any underlying medical conditions. Four other Covid-19 victims had underlying medical conditions, including a 67-year-old man with sinus infection who died in Sandakan. Three people who died from Covid-19 had chronic diseases like diabetes, high blood pressure, or heart disease.

Out of the 1,240 Covid-19 cases reported today, two were imported infections from abroad. The remaining 1,238 local transmissions are as below:

  • Sabah: 927 cases
  • Selangor: 176 cases
  • Penang: 61 cases
  • Negeri Sembilan: 25 cases
  • Kuala Lumpur: 17 cases
  • Perak: 8 cases
  • Sarawak: 7 cases
  • Labuan: 5 cases
  • Johor: 4 cases
  • Kedah: 3 cases
  • Terengganu: 3 cases
  • Melaka: 2 cases

A total of 94 Covid-19 patients are being treated in ICU, including 31 on ventilator support. Based on Dr Noor Hisham’s statement on 33 per cent usage of Sabah’s 193 ventilators, this would mean that all Covid-19 patients on ventilator support are in Sabah, if two people are sharing one ventilator.

Total Covid-19 cases in the country have reached 27,805, while active cases number at 9,744.

Sarawak’s State Disaster Management Committee (SDMC) separately reported today seven new Covid-19 cases in Kuching, including two sporadic cases among locals who did not have a history of travel to high-risk Covid-19 areas or contact with positive cases.

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