Health director-general Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah today said election campaigns leading to massive gatherings in India had contributed to the explosion of daily cases in the subcontinent, adding that the experience offers Malaysia lessons on preventing a repeat of such a crisis.
Addressing the press today to explain issues surrounding the current movement control order and steps taken to monitor the spike in cases, Noor Hisham said the Indian government’s move to ease restrictions in Covid-19 SOPs in March had led to massive gatherings which precipitated the current crisis there.
“On March 7, their leaders declared that the country had successfully contained the Covid-19 pandemic and restrictions would end in India. When such an announcement was made, many Indian citizens no longer adhered to SOPs, restrictions were eased. Gatherings were held on beaches, at religious festivals and weddings,” he said.
Noor Hisham said the spike in India also followed five state elections involving campaigns which had ignored social distancing and the wearing of masks.
“We must take lessons from India by avoiding elections such as the state election in Sabah.
“Had we not invoked the emergency ordinance, the Sarawak state election would have to be held in June. With the emergency, we can avoid the Sarawak state election,” he added.
Noor Hisham said any move to hold elections would mean gatherings being held.
He cited as example a cluster of more than 2,000 infections caused by an individual from Johor who travelled to Sarawak.
“Imagine if Sarawakians return from the peninsula to cast their votes. There would definitely be infections. This is what we fear,” he said, adding that any increase of infections in rural Sarawak would be difficult to address.
“What we must do is take pre-emptive actions. Before the tsunami of Covid-19 strikes us, we must adhere to SOPs again, get the vaccines as soon as possible. Insha Allah, we will step up our ability to increase our supply, and we must avoid travelling interstate, and the health ministry’s advice is, stay home unless there are important matters to attend to.”
He said the health ministry would suggest to the National Security Council a halt to all gatherings as well as interstate travel ahead of the Hari Raya celebrations.
In January, the Yang di-Pertuan Agong Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah used his powers to declare a state of emergency, suspending the federal Parliament and state assemblies.
The move came amid threats from several Umno politicians to revoke support for the fragile Perikatan Nasional government led by Muhyiddin Yassin.
Any loss of majority for Muhyiddin would mean the dissolution of Parliament and snap elections, a scenario that Noor Hisham and top health officials have opposed since last year.
India today logged a record of over 4,000 deaths due to Covid-19, taking the country’s overall toll to 238,270.
It also added more than 401,000 new cases, taking its caseload to nearly 21.9 million, second only to the US.
Experts say the new wave of infections may not hit a peak until the end of May, as various states impose lockdowns in a bid to curb the virus spread and hospitals struggle to accommodate the influx of Covid-19 patients.
The surge in cases in India has been blamed on virus variants and the government having allowed most activities to resume as well as huge religious and political gatherings.
Speaking today, Noor Hisham also defended the move to implement MCO 2.0 in January, dismissing claims that it had failed to contain the spread of the virus in the country.
“Cases peaked on Jan 30 when we recorded 5,738 cases,” he said. “If we hadn’t implemented MCO 2.0, we would have seen five-figure cases.”
He added that the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation in the US had predicted that Malaysia would record 20,000 cases in the first week of March.
“But that didn’t happen because we implemented MCO 2.0.”
As of yesterday, 56 cases involving variants of concern had been detected along with three cases of variants of interest comprising eight of the UK variant, 48 of the South African variant, two of the Nigerian variant and one of the Indian variant.
Noor Hisham warned that the virus variants could be highly contagious and result in more deaths as they were resistant to the current treatment available for Covid-19 patients.
He said infections involving the mutant strains were also high among young adults aged 20 to 39.
He urged the public to comply with SOPs at all times, adding that control over social and education clusters would help bring down the number of infections.