WITH Penang’s Covid-19 average infectivity rate (R-0) rising to 1.02 as of Sunday, on the back of Malaysia’s national R-nought of 1.08, the coming Chinese New Year revelry has the state’s public healthcare experts on high alert.
Penang Hospital infectious disease unit head Datuk Dr Chow Ting Soo has even decided to be at her stations all through CNY, taking turns with colleagues to take short breaks to be with loved ones for quick meals.
She recently made the following public appeal, especially to Penangites: “Get yourself tested before any gathering or visiting, and if you are unwell, stay away and conduct a self-test.
“Outdoor dining is better than indoor dining, but if it can only be done indoors, the number of diners should be low,” she said.
She was especially worried about friends gathering for feasts, which would inevitably lead to the removal of masks.
“If you gather and eat with your friends, make sure to put your face mask back on after eating and before mingling,” she stressed.
For the growth of cases to be controllable, the data must result in the R-nought being below one. At one and above, it means that the number of cases can be expected to rise.
As far as numbers go, Penang’s cases are relatively lower than other states.
The state Health Department’s figures last Sunday showed that Penang’s incidence rate was at 73.8 cases per 100,000 population.
Northeast District, the most densely populated place in Penang had an incidence rate of just 33 cases per 100,000.
Dr Chow called on Penangites to help keep the cases low by vigilantly maintaining the now familiar Covid-19 precautions, from physical distancing to wearing masks and avoiding crowded places.
“My team and I are ready to serve. We will sacrifice our CNY holiday for the sake of the people’s health and safety.
“At least this year, we do not have movement restrictions and can still have family reunions,” she said.
She also said there was no need to use N95 masks because well- fitting surgical and three-ply masks would provide sufficient protection.
“Face masks block droplets expelled by infected individuals and prevent ourselves from being infected.
“Infections are mainly caused by droplets and if a person is in a poorly ventilated room crowded with people, the droplets may be suspended in the air for a longer time and behave as though they are airborne.
“The main thing now is to wear proper masks and avoid being at poorly ventilated and crowded places,” she said.
On the threat of the Omicron variant, Dr Chow said the Covid-19 R-nought would not reduce as fast as expected.
“It looks like our cases have reached a plateau phase, where we may have aged and immune-compromised patients as well as those who are not vaccinated eventually becoming infected and may require hospitalisation.
“Hopefully, the infection rate is at a level where healthcare personnel can manage.”
Dr Chow appealed to everyone to get their vaccine booster shots, stressing that it was important to help reduce severe and intensive care unit (ICU) cases.
“What we worry now is that many frontliners may be infected and may need to be isolated.
“This will reduce the manpower at hospitals to look after the patients.
“Currently, Penang Hospital is able to reduce its team members at the Covid-19 ward, but we still need a core team to carry out screening, swabbing, treating and caring for patients in ICU.
“In the future, the booster shot may be similar to the annual influenza shots and will follow the strain that is circulating.
“It is still too early to speculate but it is likely that the public will need more injections if the virus keeps mutating,” she said.