Malaysia Choosing Covid-19 Prevention Over Herd Immunity: DG

No local public health experts have publicly advocated herd immunity, calling instead for targeted lockdowns, along with aggressive testing, contact tracing, and isolation.

KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 11 — Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah today defended the implementation of the Conditional Movement Control Order (CMCO) across nearly the whole peninsula that has been criticised by medical experts.

The Health director-general said that Malaysia’s way of tackling the Covid-19 epidemic is by using the “prevention and control” method, rather than herd immunity.

“Before the start of this Covid-19 pandemic, there’s two schools of thought and we always embrace two schools of thought,” Dr Noor Hisham said at his daily press conference today, when a reporter asked him to comment on why many local public health experts have questioned the rationale and science behind the implementation of the CMCO.

“The first school of thought is mainly the herd immunity approach and this is [what] all the experts, public health experts are talking about,” Dr Noor Hisham claimed.

It is unknown who Dr Noor Hisham was referring to. No local medical experts, who are critical of using lockdowns as a primary method of controlling Covid-19, have publicly advocated a herd immunity approach.

The Academy of Medicine of Malaysia, a group of medical specialists, said prolonged lockdowns had damaging effects on the economy and children amid school closures, recommending instead that the government focus on targeted lockdowns in areas with high infection rates, followed by aggressive testing, contact tracing, and isolation.

Dr Noor Hisham explained that the herd immunity approach simply means allowing more people to get infected, especially young people, who will then build antibodies against the virus and provide herd immunity.

Sweden — which has not used “unsustainable” lockdowns in its Covid-19 response, unlike lockdowns utilised in Europe and much of the world — reportedly has a per capita death rate of 58.4 per 100,000 people, the 12th highest in the world, excluding Andorra and San Marino.

On the other hand, Dr Noor Hisham said Malaysia uses the prevention and control method by using public health measures.

“Today, the country that uses prevention and control methods, as you know, the cases are more contained and managed well, as compared to those who embraced herd immunity,” the Health DG said.

He said one of Malaysia’s ways of prevention and control was through border control, whereby all returnees from international gates will have to be screened and quarantined, followed by testing for those who returned from Sabah after the September state elections.

He said this form of border control was difficult to implement in population-dense areas like the peninsula.

“So, for example, someone from the red zone from Sabah coming to Semenanjung, we have border control in terms of testing and if it’s positive, we isolate them but can we afford to do this in Selangor for example those people coming in and out again for us to do public health intervention?”

Unlike during the second wave when the infection was localised at a specific locality, the third wave is widespread and not confined to any areas, Dr Noor Hisham said.

Although Dr Noor Hisham claimed that public health experts were touting herd immunity, so far, none of the public health experts that have spoken to CodeBlue have commented on using the herd immunity approach in tackling the Covid-19 pandemic.

These public health experts, including MPs like former Health Minister Dzulkefly Ahmad, have insisted on strengthening public health measures, like what Dzulkefly said at the Dewan Rakyat today: “testing, tracing, isolation and support system”.

Dr Noor Hisham also pointed out today that if Malaysia continuously reports four-digit cases for 10 days, there will not be enough hospital beds to accommodate these patients.

Hence, he stressed it is better to increase public health measures to prevent the spread of Covid-19.

National Covid-19 Highlights

The Ministry of Health (MOH) reported 822 positive Covid-19 cases today, bringing the total number of active cases to 11,497 cases.

The breakdown of the 815 locally transmitted cases according to states is as below:

  • Sabah: 258 cases
  • Negeri Sembilan: 225 cases
  • Selangor: 176 cases
  • Labuan: 46 cases
  • Penang: 26 cases
  • Kuala Lumpur: 17 cases
  • Kedah: 17 cases
  • Sarawak: 14 cases
  • Perak: 14 cases
  • Johor: 10 cases
  • Melaka: six cases
  • Putrajaya: three cases
  • Perlis: two cases
  • Kelantan: one case

Two deaths were also reported today in Sabah, while three new clusters were reported in the state.

Currently, 86 patients are being treated at the intensive care unit while 30 of them are on ventilator support.

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