KUALA LUMPUR, May 3 — The proportion of severely ill Covid-19 patients has been rising since last January, hitting more than a third of new cases in April, Dr Adham Baba said.
The health minister, in a Covid-19 Immunisation Task Force (CITF) press conference today, said that in January, the proportion of the seriously sick among new Covid-19 cases (Category Four and Five) was 6.7 per cent, which rose to 26.2 per cent in February. The proportion of severe Covid-19 cases then dropped to 17.2 per cent in March, followed by an increase to 35.3 per cent in April.
Category Four Covid-19 is when a patient is Covid-19 positive, has pneumonia, and requires supplemental oxygen, while Category Five patients are critically ill with multi-organ involvement.
“Data on admission of Covid-19 patients to the intensive care unit (ICU) has shown a high percentage (of increase) among patients in Category Four and Five, which is 86.5 per cent in January 2021 until 94.2 per cent in early May 2021,” Dr Adham said.
Dr Adham also pointed out that more younger patients below the age of 60 are falling severely ill upon being infected with the coronavirus, without specifying the age groups.
“There are changes in patient profile, where patients below the age of 60 who previously showed less serious symptoms are now showing more symptoms and are less responsive to treatment, as compared to the beginning of the pandemic.”
The health minister also said there are various possibilities behind the rise of severe Covid-19 cases in Malaysia, among which include late presentation to hospital or a new and aggressive variant.
“However, we are studying this issue,” Dr Adham said referring to the possibility of a new variant.
“To overcome this issue, the Ministry of Health (MOH) along with the Ministry of Science, Technology, and Innovation (MOSTI) , the Covid-19 Vaccine Supply Access Committee (JKJAV), will have to achieve herd immunity early.
“At the same time, we urge everyone to screen themselves as early as possible when symptomatic or if they are close contacts with positive cases, so that early diagnosis and treatment can be given as well as home surveillance order, so that self-quarantine can be done to break the chain of Covid-19 transmission,” Dr Adham added.
Currently, Malaysia has officially recorded 48 Covid-19 cases of the South African variant B.1.351, eight cases of the UK B.1.1.7 variant, one imported case of the Indian variant B.1.617 in an Indian national screened at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport, and two cases of the Nigerian variant B.1.525.
The Institute for Medical Research (IMR) recently identified the first cases of the B.1.351 variant originating from South Africa in Perak and Kelantan, involving clusters with 10 cases in each state. IMR found the South African variant — which was first identified in Selangor in Malaysia among locally transmitted infections — in another seven cases in Selangor.
The Indian variant has double mutation in key areas of the virus’s spike protein, which allows the virus to escape the body’s immune system. The World Health Organization (WHO) however said that more research is needed to study if this mutation is behind the surge of Covid-19 cases in India.