Friday, June 18, 2021

Full MCO won’t be enough to bring down Covid numbers, health experts say

While such an approach may have worked last year, the situation is no longer the same, they say.

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Health experts have cautioned that imposing a full-scale lockdown similar to the first movement control order (MCO) enforced across the country in March last year might have only limited effect in bringing down the number of infections, as Malaysia marks two consecutive days of more than 6,000 new cases nationwide.

Dr Sanjay Rampal, an epidemiologist and public health expert at Universiti Malaya, said last year’s MCO had worked as the country was then facing the beginning of the pandemic, at a time of fewer daily cases.

MCO 1.0, as it is now called, was imposed on March 18 last year. On March 18 itself, Malaysia recorded 117 new cases with a seven-day average of 92. When the MCO was lifted on June 10, only two new cases were recorded nationwide with a seven-day average of 53.

Yesterday, a record 6,806 new cases were recorded. This came hard on the heels of 6,075 cases the day before, with a seven-day average of 4,611.

Sanjay said it was possible that the country would continue to see an increase in cases, partly due to public movements during the recent festive season.

However, he said a strict lockdown would not be a long-term solution, suggesting instead a mitigation approach which would include increasing capacity for contact tracing, focusing on mass testing and boosting healthcare resources for Covid-19 complications such as ICUs and ventilators.

“A strict lockdown will not be a long-term solution.”

He said such an approach was akin to preparing for a long haul against the virus as more large outbreaks are to be expected.

“It is unlikely that we will reach herd immunity against Covid-19 within the next few years,” he said.

“The virus is very easily transmitted and the high global incidence makes it likely for new strains to appear.”

He also cautioned against playing the blame game although noting that much had been reported about issues with SOP compliance.

“The likely reasons for the current large outbreaks are the high proportion of unvaccinated population and overwhelmed contact tracing, outbreak investigation and testing systems.”

On Wednesday, the health ministry said there were no more green zones left in the peninsula while Penang, Selangor, Melaka, Kuala Lumpur and Putrajaya had only red zones.

Sabah had eight green zones while Sarawak had five.

“We cannot depend on the MCO alone, even if we were to do a total lockdown like MCO 1.0.”

An area is considered a green zone if it has zero recorded Covid-19 cases. Yellow zones have 1-20 cases, orange 21-40 and red 41 and above.

Dr Lokman Hakim Sulaiman from the International Medical University agreed that an MCO alone would not be enough to bring down the numbers.

“The government seems to be focusing only on MCO and expecting the public to strictly observe SOPs so that transmission can be controlled and cases come down, which is certainly not enough,” he told MalaysiaNow.

“Unless those who carry the virus are quickly identified and quarantined, it will be difficult to break the chain of transmission.”

He suggested providing easier access to testing for those with symptoms through the subsidy of RTK-Antigen test kits which he said should be made available at healthcare facilities in major cities.

He also called for an increase in number of frontliners to improve the efficiency in case investigation and detection, and enforcement of quarantine and SOPs, especially in red zone areas.

Likewise, he said, the government should modify the national vaccination programme to allow a focus on immunising those in Covid-19 hotspots.

“If the majority of Covid cases come from those areas, immunising the population there will dramatically reduce the risk of transmission as well as the number of cases, and also reduce the risk of exporting the virus to other areas through cross-border movement.

“After all, most cases are among young adults between 18 and 40 years old who are the most socio-economically active. If we protect them after protecting the elderly, we will protect the others.”

But he was adament that a full lockdown would not remedy the situation.

“We cannot depend on the MCO alone, even if we were to do a total lockdown like MCO 1.0.”

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