Need For An Evidence-Based And Coherent National Covid-19 Policy – Dr Venugopalan K. Balan

Common sense should prevail, and the Ministry of Health should not implement widespread public health measures for the sake of appearing to be doing something.

The recent contradicting statements by the Ministry of Health (MOH) related to the proposal of universal masking in schools due to the increasing number of Covid-19 cases underline the lack of an evidence-based and coherent national policy on the response to the ever-changing landscape of the pandemic.

One of the main challenges is there has been no independent technical evaluation of the effectiveness of the various previous Covid-19 related initiatives such as masking, physical distancing, and vaccination.

What is also missing is the evaluation of concurrent ‘collateral damage’ that resulted from these policies such as loss of employment, financial hardship, deteriorating mental health, breakdown in relationships, and even poor soft skill development among schoolchildren.

We are still stuck in the knee-jerk method of responding to periodic expected increases in Covid cases, with the usual ‘advice’ of wearing masks, getting booster vaccination doses, and physical distancing, without putting these measures in the correct context and supported by the latest evidence-based databases.

Sadly, it appears that the MOH only reacts to the situation when the situation on the ground is highlighted by the media.

The Covid-19 risk communication exercise of the MOH, although bountiful, severely lacks context and relevance to the community. Personally, I believe that using technical jargon, such as Ro/ Arcturus variant, serves no purpose except to alarming the people unnecessarily.

What is supposed to be an initiative to educate and calm the community becomes a fear-mongering exercise, because the risk communication is not done effectively. In comparison, refer to the more mature media release by the Ministry of Health in Singapore.

These are the key points that need to be highlighted to the community:

  1. Individuals who should be wearing masks and keeping up to date with their booster vaccinations are the very elderly and immunocompromised individuals.
  2. Schoolchildren went through the Covid-19 pandemic with minimal problems. Thus, requiring every child to wear a mask is considered overkill and a logistical nightmare. A better approach would be to emphasise hand hygiene, cough etiquette, and only wearing masks if the child is symptomatic with respiratory symptoms. The child should also remain at home until he or she gets well.

I hope that common sense prevails and that the MOH does not implement widespread public health measures for the sake of appearing to be doing something.

Technical statements and comments meant for the public should also be made by qualified clinical and public health experts.

Dr Venugopalan K. Balan is a consultant public health specialist.

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

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