WHO Malaysia Urges Continued Caution With Potential Covid-19 Variants

The World Health Organization characterised Malaysia’s Covid-19 epidemic in the week of March 22-28 as “large-scale community transmission”.

KUALA LUMPUR, April 6 — The World Health Organization (WHO) has cautioned Malaysia to continue practising public health measures despite a decline in reported Covid-19 cases, albeit at a slower rate.

WHO Malaysia’s March 29 situation report noted that health authorities reported 8,904 Covid-19 cases in the week of March 22 to 28, a drop of 4 per cent compared to the previous week that marked a slower rate of decrease compared to previous weeks. 

WHO Malaysia also observed a rise in nationwide population movement, based on data from the Google Mobility Report, as the United Nations agency stressed the need for continued vigilance, especially with upcoming Ramadan bazaars.

WHO Malaysia also highlighted the potential introduction of Covid-19 variants and the high number of coronavirus infections reported by several neighbouring countries. 

“There is a need to improve the capacity for genomic sequencing for surveillance of new variants,” said WHO Malaysia.

The Ministry of Health (MOH) has identified in Selangor nine locally transmitted cases of the Covid-19 variant that first emerged in South Africa, the B.1.351 variant that is believed to be more infectious. Authorities believe the index cases of the South African variant here were likely workers from a company based at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport.

“While the number of reported cases is showing signs of a potential plateau, there has been a slight increase in the number of severe cases reported,” said WHO Malaysia in its report on the Covid-19 situation in the country from March 22 to 28.

“Nationwide, 169 cases required intensive care on 28 March, compared to 154 the previous week, and of them, 76 required ventilator support (compared to 65 the previous week).”

The proportion of Covid-19 patients in the intensive care unit (ICU) was 31.8 per cent in the week of March 22 to 28. The number of deaths from Covid-19 in Malaysia remained about the same, with 22 fatalities reported that week.

“The proportion of cases reported as unlinked to existing clusters appears to have plateaued at around 21 to 22.5 per cent, a moderate indicator of potential widespread community transmission. There has been a decline in new clusters reported, but of those detected, the majority are still related to workplaces,” said WHO Malaysia.

The UN agency noted that 2,004 coronavirus cases, or 22.5 per cent, were reported as unlinked at the time of reporting, a slight increase from the previous week.

Although most states reported a continued decline in Covid-19 cases — including Selangor, Sarawak, Johor, and Penang that reported the highest numbers — Kelantan and Pahang had “notably higher” numbers of infections compared to the previous week.

Geographical spread of the virus was particularly prominent in Sarawak that previously reported cases localised to two or three districts, as the proportion of sporadic infections has now increased to 23.1 per cent.

There were 381 active Covid-19 clusters as of March 28, while 50 new clusters were identified in the week ending March 28.

Malaysia averaged at about 1,272 new Covid-19 cases reported daily in the week of March 22 to 28. The vast majority, or 98.2 per cent, was locally transmitted. 

On average, 48,125 tests are conducted daily that week, with a positive rate (share of tests that are positive) of 2.64 per cent. WHO Malaysia noted that 336,874 tests were done in the week of March 22 to 28, marking a 2.7 per cent decline from the previous week.

WHO Malaysia characterised the country’s Covid-19 epidemic that week as “large-scale community transmission” at Stage Three. The transmission stage assessment is made based on three indicators: case trends (including confirmed cases and positive rates); severe illness (including ICU admissions, mortality, and severe acute respiratory illness case reporting); and sources of infection (including the proportion of local/ imported cases, unlinked cases and clusters).

Having more than 25 per cent of locally transmitted cases unlinked to known clusters, said WHO, is one of the main signals, but not the only indicator for large-scale community transmission.

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