KUALA LUMPUR, August 31 — Khairy Jamaluddin has reminded Ministry of Health (MOH) staff to prepare to deal with Covid-19 as an endemic disease that will remain in the country.
The newly appointed health minister, in his maiden address to MOH staff on his first day on the job yesterday, also said their main priority is to control the surging coronavirus epidemic within the next 100 days by reducing infections and fatalities, including brought-in-dead (BID) cases.
“We also must accept the fact that even if we get this pandemic under control, we all have to accept that Covid is endemic. We have to live with this. Most countries have decided to live with Covid. They cannot shut down and contain the pandemic any more,” Khairy said.
“With vaccination and immunisation, along with efforts for behavioural change and to follow new SOPs (standard operating procedures), we can usher in a new period of living with the virus. For that of course, KKM (Ministry of Health) is very very important, not just in efforts to manage daily cases and not just in efforts to increase protection from immunisation and vaccination, but how we can bring forward a change in behaviour so that we can embrace the new normal where this virus is endemic.”
MOH, under the leadership of Health director-general Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah and then-Health Minister Dr Adham Baba, has pursued a Covid-19 elimination strategy after the first nationwide lockdown in March last year appeared to successfully control the epidemic, with MOH touting purportedly zero new infections on a few days.
Even though the virus surged out of control, especially after the Sabah state election last September, MOH continued to use elimination strategies through perpetual lockdowns. The National Recovery Plan (NRP) by the then-Perikatan Nasional government is similarly based on virus elimination with unrealistic targets for case declines.
Several states have been moved to Phase Two of the NRP and beyond — while the new government led by Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob deliberates on moving the Klang Valley to Phase Two — even though every single state and territory, except Labuan, greatly exceeds the Phase Two target daily case incidence of 12.2 cases per 100,000 population, ranging from 92.57 in Penang and 22.3 in Perlis in the week of August 20-26.
Covid-19 outbreaks are particularly brutal in Sabah, Kedah, Kelantan, Penang, Perak, and Johor with spiking infections and deaths, amid extremely high positive rates exceeding 20 per cent in the first three states last week from August 15 to 21, and between 14 per cent and 9 per cent in the latter three states, that suggest under-testing.
Khairy highlighted yesterday the need for reforms to the health care system to manage an increased disease burden in future from non-communicable diseases, rising health care costs, and an understaffed public health workforce.
“We manage the pandemic, we get people to accept this is endemic. We bring about behavioural change so that we can be responsible to open up our country again,” the health minister added.
“What we do here at KKM will help us revive the economy. It will help us improve community welfare as our society has been living under the grip of Covid-19 for more than a year, not just about health, but also problems with lockdowns, livelihood, mental health issues, and the like.”