‘We are better prepared now’

SEPANG: Past experience in dealing with communicable diseases has helped Malaysia better prepare for such incidents, says Datuk Seri Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad.

The Health Minister said health authorities had previously dealt with incidents such as SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome), Nipah, Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV), H1N1, Ebola and Zika.

He noted that even recently, Malaysia’s health authorities have had to deal with an influenza outbreak as well as the return of polio.

“We have a wealth of experience in dealing with communicable diseases. We are always on the alert and it is ‘all systems go’ when we have an incident.

“We want to assure the public that we are also closely monitoring the latest situation concerning novel coronavirus, ” he said after visiting Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) and Kuala Lumpur International Airport 2 (KLIA2) yesterday.

Dr Dzulkefly said public perception that health authorities were “not doing much” to handle the novel coronavirus incident might be because they were unaware of how experienced our health officers actually are.

“But let me assure the public that we have our eye on the situation, ” he added.

According to the Global Health Security Index 2019, Malaysia ranks 18th among 195 countries in being able to prevent, detect, and respond to significant disease outbreaks.

Eye on the situation: Dzulkefly (right) checking on a thermal scanner for passengers as he visits KLIA in Sepang.Eye on the situation: Dzulkefly (right) checking on a thermal scanner for passengers as he visits KLIA in Sepang.

Dr Dzulkefly said when there is an incident involving a communicable disease, authorities will monitor it for virulence (the severity or harmfulness of a disease), and any follow-up action would depend on how severe the situation is.

He also admitted that aside from having to deal with the disease itself, the “other pain” is having to counter fake news and misinformation that go viral.

“To counter this, we will have daily updates and hope the public will go to reliable sources for news instead of believing what goes viral on social media.

“I hope the public will get verified information on the situation through statements by the Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister, and the Health Ministry, ” said Dr Dzulkefly.

He assured the public the ministry will be transparent in providing news and information on the novel coronavirus.

“The ministry will list down fake news that is on social media so that the public will know this information is not true, ” he said.

He also advised health frontliners especially nurses, to exercise a high level of self-care when dealing with patients, particularly patients-under-investigation (PUIs) for the virus.

“Medical staff are already susceptible to hospital-acquired infections and that is why they must observe high personal protection while at work, ” said the minister.

Health authorities said that between Jan 10 and 26, the cumulative number of those identified as PUIs is 37 cases, of which 18 are Malaysians, 18 are Chinese nationals, and one is a Jordanian.

As at 3pm, Jan 26,164,692 travellers have arrived at Malaysia’s international entry points.

Of that number, nine were referred for health checks but did not fit in the definition of those suspected to have coronavirus.

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