Stop Chasing the Case Numbers – Educate the Rakyat — Dr Timothy Cheng

Positivity rates should also be emphasised so as to make us realise that case numbers are not the only thing that should be looked at.

Malaysia has been fighting the Covid-19 pandemic for over a year now. Frontliners, both in the health care and non-health care sectors, are worn out and drained, mentally and physically.

The prime minister has recently drawn up a National Recovery Plan for the country with three parameters: case numbers, ICU usage and percentage of rakyat vaccinated.

There have been many calls to officially publish and use the positivity rates of Covid-19 cases, as in the number of cases and number of tests x 100 per cent. Why is this important?

The graph above shows the seven-day moving average of positive cases and the positivity rates, with the number of tests calculated from the Crisis Preparedness and Response Centre Telegram channel. It also looks at the difference in total tests between days.

Ideally, we would want to see a reduction in absolute number of cases and positivity rates. Both numbers should not be considered in isolation as it can give us a false sense of security, e.g. during the post-Full Movement Control Order (FMCO) period, case numbers come down but the positivity rate is fairly static.

This means that the reduction in case numbers could be due to a reduction in the number of tests, which does not mean that the pandemic is under control.

Here are my suggestions:

1. Positivity rates and absolute case numbers should be taken into account when gauging the progress of our nation in the fight against the pandemic.

The World Health Organization’s (WHO) recommendation is a positivity rate of less than 5 per cent before opening borders/relaxing restrictions.

A quick look here will show you that nations doing well in the fight against Covid-19 have uniformly low positivity rates.

Besides positivity rates, there are also many other complex parameters suggested by the Malaysian Health Coalition, which must also be taken into consideration.

2. The rise of both absolute case numbers and the positivity rate during the Ramadan month leading up to Hari Raya Puasa was a warning sign.

Yet bazaars during the fasting month were still allowed to operate.

Students who were allowed to travel home for Raya ended up causing clusters, and even infecting the bus drivers who sent them home.

There must be no exceptions to SOPs; even frontliners were not allowed to cross state borders to return home . Relaxing the rules for students has just caused more harm than good.

We must learn from our past mistakes. It is better to stop a gathering than to allow it to go ahead with so-called “strict SOPs” and expect adherence.

All it takes is for a single person with Covid-19 to break the SOPs and cause another outbreak.

3. We need to educate the rakyat! Positivity rates should also be emphasised so as to make us realise that case numbers are not the only thing that should be looked at.

Many feel relaxed by a reduction in case numbers; which will lead to an increase in the mass movement of people, and increasing the risk of the spread of the virus.

Let’s not risk misleading the public by over-emphasising on absolute case numbers. We must win this fight together.

Dr Timothy Cheng is an orthopaedic surgeon who has recently completed his training. He can be reached at [email protected] and welcomes corrections to his writings and analyses.

  • This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of CodeBlue.

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