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Expert warns of counter-productive ‘MCO 2’ as Covid-19 sees nationwide spike

This comes as health authorities announce the highest number of daily cases since the MCO was eased in June.

Amanda Suriya
3 minute read
SOPs include physical distancing and the wearing of masks in public areas. Photo: Bernama
SOPs include physical distancing and the wearing of masks in public areas. Photo: Bernama

A public health expert has warned that gains “made at great cost and sacrifice” will be difficult to maintain, as Malaysia reports triple-digit daily Covid-19 infections for the fifth day in a week.

This comes amid strong speculation that the movement control order (MCO), the government’s curbs on businesses and schools to control the pandemic which has so far claimed 136 lives in Malaysia, could be reinstated.

“How about all [of us] stay at home for a while again?” health director-general Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah said on Twitter today, shortly before he announced 260 new infections, the most since the lockdown was eased three months ago.

Azrul Mohd Khalib.

Azrul Mohd Khalib, who heads public health think tank Galen Centre for Health & Social Policy, described the recent spike as possibly Malaysia’s “third wave of the outbreak”, but said any move to bring back an MCO-style lockdown could be “counter-productive and yield very little results in controlling the disease”.

Azrul said a freshly imposed MCO would cause further damage to the economy even as Malaysia struggles to recover from the impact of the earlier MCO, which lasted almost three months.

He said the spike was expected, and the recent election fever in Sabah meant that the upward trajectory of incidence was “not a surprise”.

“The earlier mobilisation of the health ministry’s resources and manpower to Sabah also meant that they were anticipating this and prepared for it,” he told MalaysiaNow.

All but one of the 260 cases reported in the last 24 hours were local transmissions.

On June 9, as the government prepared to announce the recovery movement control order, or RMCO, to end the total lockdown, the country had a total of 8,336 cases, of which 6,975 were recovered cases. At that time, only seven new cases were recorded.

After the start of the RMCO, the number of new cases dwindled to double-digit figures, reaching 20 cases each day, until July 1, when only one new case was recorded.

The downtrend gave some hope that Malaysia could return to pre-pandemic normality sooner than most other countries.

But on Sept 8, in the build-up to the Sabah election, 100 new cases were recorded, a marked increase from 26 cases the previous day, and on Sept 16, the total number of cases since the first case in January breached the psychological milestone of 10,000.

Azrul said it was convenient to blame Sabah for the nationwide spike in Covid-19 infections but noted that there had been ongoing outbreaks in the north and east coasts of Peninsular Malaysia as well as in the Klang Valley.

“At this point, every state with the exception of Melaka has reported new active Covid-19 cases. It is likely that we are in the third wave of the outbreak in Malaysia,” he told MalaysiaNow.

“The challenge for Malaysia will be maintaining and keeping the gains that it made at great cost and sacrifice,” he added.

“That needs the cooperation and support of the public to adhere to SOPs and maintain safe practices which prevent the spread of Covid-19.”

But he said public compliance with the SOPs, which include the wearing of masks and physical distancing, had been disappointing as even prominent individuals flouted health rules while ordinary Malaysians were punished.

“If it is about leading by example, we have seen little of it from our leaders. How do we expect the public to comply?” Azrul added.