Health experts are warning young Malaysians to strictly follow Covid-19 SOPs and to avoid going to crowded places, in the wake of news that more and more youth are contracting the virus which has so far claimed well over 1,700 lives in the country.
Health director-general Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah said last Saturday that the highest number of Covid-19 infections this year involved young adults aged 20 to 39.
Speaking at his first press conference in some two months, he said there were now more young people in the ICU, with cases of higher severity and stronger resistance to treatment.
He also revealed that Covid-19 variants from the UK, South Africa, Nigeria and India have been detected in the country.
Experts who spoke to MalaysiaNow said it was too soon to say if the rising number of cases among young people was due to these variants, but they agreed on the need for those in this age bracket to take extra precautions.
“We are seeing more and younger patients being admitted at more advanced stages.”
Azrul Mohd Khalib, CEO of the Galen Centre for Health and Social Policy, said there was insufficient data to determine a link between the variants and the rise in infections and deaths in the younger age group.
But he said the current outbreak was “more severe and aggressive” than previous waves, and that the surge in cases was “remarkably different” from that of last year.
He said ICUs in hospitals across the Klang Valley and in Kelantan, Sarawak, Johor and Penang are quickly filling up with patients at an advanced stage of the disease.
“We are seeing more and younger patients being admitted at more advanced stages,” he said.
“When we look at the 309 Covid-19 deaths from March 31 to May 4, about 21% came from those aged 25 to 54, exceeding 19% of total deaths reported in the age group of 55 to 64.”
Dr Subramaniam Muniandy, president of the Malaysian Medical Association, agreed that the exact reason for the increase in cases involving young people remained unknown.
However, he said lack of compliance with SOPs was “definitely a factor”.
Young people aged 20 to 39 are considered the most active group in terms of social movement as many are working adults and college or university students.
Many also spend time at malls, shopping complexes and restaurants where large gatherings are often found.
Subramaniam pointed to the government’s Hotspot Identification for Dynamic Engagement or HIDE system, saying most of the places listed so far are places that attract crowds.
Young people aged 20 to 39 are considered the most active group in terms of social movement.
“Crowds are a main contributor to the spike in cases,” he added. “There are also many workplace clusters being reported daily. This, too, is contributing to the spike.”
He urged the health ministry to confirm if any of the current cases are due to the newer variants of the virus which are feared to be more contagious.
In the meantime, he advised young people to avoid non-essential travel and to remain at home to curb the spread of the virus.
Azrul agreed that compliance with SOPs was needed to prevent infections. However, he said it was also impossible to keep people at home forever or even for long periods of time.
“People need to work, earn a living, buy groceries, socialise and conduct business,” he said.
“Keeping the most productive segments of society at home instead of participating in the economy is also harmful to the country, and will be detrimental to the development and rebuilding during this crisis and after it is over.”