Thursday, August 5, 2021

Putting Malaysia’s Covid-19 numbers in context

While the number of daily infections may be alarming, we should keep in mind the distribution of cases in terms of severity of infection as well as the progress in our vaccination efforts.

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At first glance, the daily Covid-19 infections at 12,541 cases on July 17 looked alarming. After over six weeks of being holed up at home from the movement control order 3.0, not only were new cases not coming down, they had gone up – and on many days, setting record highs.

But a closer examination of daily new infections reveals that that there’s no cause for unnecessary panic. Of the new cases on that day, 98.5% involved those with either no symptoms (classified as Category One by the health ministry) or mild symptoms (Category Two). They comprised 6,504 of the former and 5,848 of the latter.

There were only 86 new patients (0.7%) in Category Three, which means their lungs had been infected. Total new patients in Category Four were 49 (0.4%) while Category Five had 54 (0.4%). Category Four refers to Covid-19 patients who require oxygen therapy while Category Five are those in critical condition in need of ventilation support.

Put in another way, the overwhelming number of new cases on that day had few or no symptoms. This is not to trivialise a global pandemic that has killed over four million people worldwide and close to 7,000 in Malaysia. But if we get unnecessarily worked up over statistics without contextualising them, we may end up with the wrong strategy to contain this outbreak.

We need to look beyond the daily cases, especially as our vaccination efforts have been ramped up to almost half a million doses per day. Studies worldwide have shown that while those vaccinated may still get infected with Covid-19, they are likely to suffer mild or no symptoms.

In the UK, where over 87% of the population has received at least one dose of Covid-19 vaccine, the number of new cases remains high. On July 17, there were 54,674 new infections in the country, more than four times that of Malaysia’s 12,528 on the same day, despite the UK having a population twice the size of ours.

The UK is going ahead and lifting Covid-19 restrictions on July 19. The British have already accepted the fact that it’s not the daily new infections that matters. It’s the number of patients needing critical care, and deaths, which have fallen drastically.

As of July 18, some nine million or 40% of the Malaysian population had received at least one dose of vaccine and 4.4 million (18.9%) had been fully vaccinated. We are on track to achieving herd immunity by year-end, if not earlier.

With that in mind, the health ministry should continue with its daily breakdown report on the various categories of Covid-19 infections. This will go some way in allaying unnecessary fears and help contextualise the government’s milestones in our war against Covid-19.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the position of MalaysiaNow.

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