KUALA LUMPUR, July 27 — Covid-19 cases may multiply if the government rashly eases movement restrictions solely based on vaccination coverage, Nurul Izzah Anwar said yesterday, amid surging cases exceeding 10,000 daily the past 13 days.
She noted the emergence of more infectious Covid-19 variants in the country, besides citing experiences in countries like the United Kingdom and Iceland that saw cases spike in recent weeks, despite having vaccinated more than 60 per cent of their populations with at least one dose of the coronavirus vaccine.
According to Our World In Data, Iceland has fully vaccinated about 74 per cent of its population as of July 23, compared to about 55 per cent in the UK as of July 24. Malaysia has fully inoculated about 17 per cent of its population as of July 25.
“I am worried that if we loosen the restrictions by solely relying on the vaccination rate without measuring the true level of suffering of the people, as well as realistic public health measures, we will also face the same fate of those nations which have implemented such a practice,” Nurul Izzah told a special Dewan Rakyat meeting yesterday.
It is to be noted that Iceland lifted all restrictions including mask wearing, social distancing, as well as limits on gatherings and returned to normalcy on June 26.
However, the country recorded 114 cases on July 20, after recording an average of two to six cases daily from June 26. The resurgence of Covid-19 infections, reportedly caused by the Delta variant, has forced the country to reimpose Covid-19 restrictions.
England dropped its Covid-19 rules on July 19, dubbed “Freedom Day”, including the removal of social distancing restrictions in bars and restaurants, besides allowing nightclubs to reopen. After a sharp rise in Covid-19 infections from late May in the UK, daily cases fell in the past six consecutive days. The Guardian reported that scientists could not fully explain the decline in cases and that the government is still extremely cautious about the data.
According to Nurul Izzah, projections show that hospitals and the health care system in England will be burdened with a total of 175,000 Covid-19 cases a day in just 14 days– a situation similar to last January.
The UK’s Office for National Statistics reported on July 23 that hospital admissions for Covid-19 patients increased by 29 per cent in the week ending July 18 to 5.88 per 100,000 people, over triple the rate seen four weeks prior at 1.93 in the week ending June 20. Disturbingly, in older age groups, although Covid-19 positivity rates were the lowest, hospital admission rates and deaths were the highest. Under the UK’s vaccination programme that opened progressively according to age, the elderly were the first to receive their jabs.
“While we are focusing on vaccinating 80 per cent of the population, we must also inform Malaysians that this disease will be endemic, like dengue,” said Nurul Izzah.
Nurul Izzah, who commended the acceleration of vaccine administration under the National Covid-19 Immunisation Programme (PICK), also advocated for realistic measures to be implemented in the country before transitioning to the next phase of relaxing movement restrictions.
Prime Minister Muhiyiddin Yassin announced a National Recovery Plan (NRP) last month, stating that three indicators — the daily number of Covid-19 cases, intensive care unit (ICU) occupancy rate, and the vaccination rate — will be taken into account to shift from one phase to the next.
Under the NRP, eight states including Perlis, Perak, Kelantan, Terengganu, Pahang, Penang, Sabah, and Sarawak have transitioned to Phase Two, although all of these states except Perlis have exceeded the case incidence threshold of Phase Two — a maximum of 12.2 new cases per 100,000 population on a seven-day average.
At the same time, Nurul Izzah also called on the government to determine a new Poverty Line Income (PLI) to measure the poverty rate of the country. She said that the current PLI is not suitable to be implemented as Malaysians at large are suffering economically due to Covid-19.
“The 2019 PLI is no longer relevant, with nearly 100,000 people losing their jobs last year and 7,994 lost their lives. We now need to look at the post-Covid-19 PLI.
“We need to introduce real PLI to give a true meaning to the life of the people, after Covid-19.”
The PKR lawmaker also highlighted the need for the government to implement realistic and comprehensive plans to help the rakyat as most of the current schemes are from the savings of the people.
“In the recovery plan, most of the schemes belong to people’s money because it uses the people’s contributions and future savings,” she said.
“We understand, but there must be realistic planning and programmes. Otherwise we will not be able to achieve the target.”