KUALA LUMPUR, May 4 – No country has seen the end of the COVID-19 epidemic threat, not until a vaccine is found, but the preparedness and readiness of populations to respond to emerging challenges has been shown to alter the course of the epidemic in different countries.
A study based on an epidemiological model by Khazanah Research Institute (KRI) said Malaysia reached a peak of 2,434 active cases and 80 deaths on April 9, 2020 and projected it to drop to 1,553 active cases at the end of the Movement Control Order (MCO) on May 12, 2020. The MCO in Malaysia started on March 18, 2020.
As at 12 noon on May 3, Malaysia recorded a total of 6,298 cases, of which 4,413 cases or 70 per cent recovered, while 105 of them have succumbed to the disease.
The extreme public health measure, however, is not a long-term solution due to its impact on the economy, said the study done by KRI deputy director of research Aidonna Jan Ayub with Gregory Ho Wai Son, also of KRI, in collaboration with Khayriyyah Mohd Hanafiah and Muhammad Hafiz Wan Rosli from Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM).
Hence, the MCO needs to eventually end while other public health intervention measures are enhanced to mitigate the spread.
Malaysia has now moved into a Conditional MCO, whereby most of the economic sector is allowed to operate as cases have dropped with only 30 per cent of the health system capacity being used.
The point to note is that since the start of the epidemic, managing it requires a ‘hammer’ phase of strong measures to flatten the curve, to be followed by a ‘dance’ phase, when easing restrictions is balanced by other public health interventions to ensure continued transmission decreases.
Khayriyyah said the model the study by KRI was based upon shows that it is possible to sustain the gains from flattening the curve during the MCO, but it would require full commitment and concerted efforts to maintain public health precautions post-MCO.
“We need to communicate and engage with all communities in Malaysia to adopt public health best practices for our post-MCO dance with COVID-19,” she said in the study entitled: “Dancing with COVID-19: Public Health Precautions Beyond the Movement Control Order.”
Although the study highlights the risk of a COVID-19 resurgence, it mainly serves as a warning for Malaysia to maintain the necessary public health precautions, she explained.
“If we maintain efforts to isolate infected individuals and reduce new infections by adopting preventive behaviours, we can avoid a potential COVID-19 tsunami where strong measures may become necessary again,” said Khayriyyah.
The study also highlights the need for efforts by all Malaysians, ranging from precautionary behavioural changes such as mask-wearing and sustained physical distancing, to enhanced tracing, testing and the quarantine of infected individuals.
“This needs to be sustained until all susceptible people can be vaccinated,” said Aidonna Jan.
“Considering the gains achieved through collective action in flattening the curve during the MCO, it is now critical that everyone plays their role and brace themselves for a long, cautious post-MCO tango with COVID-19,” she added.