Just when we thought that Covid-19 was headed for endemicity, the emergence of the Delta and Omicron variants has sent a rude reminder that we are not out of the woods yet with regard to the pandemic.
In the last week alone, the world was shaken with record-high numbers of new Covid-19 cases, mainly of the Omicron variant. Although the clinical severity of Omicron infection is less compared to earlier variants, the rapid transmission, exponential case numbers, and effect on the unvaccinated and people with non-communicable diseases (NCDs) such as diabetes and heart disease are major causes of concern.
But are we ready to face this potential new wave? Admittedly, the challenges are different this time.
Apart from ensuring that the health care infrastructure is ready to face a possible deluge of patients, the authorities also need to manage pandemic fatigue amongst the lay public. With offices, malls, schools, and places of worship opening up, the man on the street is eager for life to return to normal.
This means that the health minister needs to take charge and make hard decisions, some that may not be popular.
The recent call by the minister to halt umrah travel due to the high cases of Omicron among returning pilgrims is one example of a decision that was not well received by the public.
Similarly, we urge the minister to take a proactive stance now, and sound the clarion call to counter the onslaught of Omicron by reactivating the Covid-19 National Task Force (NTF).
Originally known as the Greater Klang Valley Special Covid-19 Task Force (GKVSTF), the NTF is made up of an inclusive, coordinated multi-agency/sectorial team with varying expertise in pandemic management.
The GKVSTF had successfully flattened the Delta curve when earlier efforts, including MCOs and Emergency Ordinances (EO), failed, causing critical case numbers to spike in July 2021, resulting in a total collapse of health care services, and a catastrophic number of deaths.
The NTF, which reports directly to the health minister, has multi-sectoral engagements, with representatives from government agencies, universities, the private sector, expert advisory groups, and non-governmental organisations (NGOs).
As with the GKVSTF, the various clusters in the NTF will ensure that the national pandemic protocols are contemporary, and re-examine their strategic plans to be synchronised with other clusters.
This is closely monitored by the Independent Compliance team to ensure the NTF directives are satisfied, harmonised, and coordinated. They will also recommend immediate solutions to remedy any lapses or weaknesses.
The entire workflow involving district hospitals, quarantine centres, government hospitals, and private hospitals must be comprehensively addressed, with the implementation of an end-to-end automated outbreak management system.
Omicron has also taken a toll on health care workers (HCWs), with many falling sick. It is important that our HCWs are all boosted with mRNA vaccines to ensure that we are not short-staffed when Omicron really hits us.
There is no need to reinvent the wheel. We have a working model (GKVTF) and modus operandi that successfully dealt with the Delta wave.
Fine-tuning the NTF is all it takes to face the Omicron threat, protect health care services, prevent our HCWs from burnout, and minimise national morbidity and mortality.
We have learnt from the failures of managing the third wave. Let us not repeat the mistakes, and start the new year confidently with the reactivation of the NTF.
- This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of CodeBlue.