PETALING JAYA: The World Health Organisation (WHO) has warned Malaysia and other countries that it is time to prepare for the possibility of wider transmission of the novel coronavirus (Covid-19).
WHO regional western Pacific director Dr Takeshi Kasai said the disease was at a “critical juncture”.
“While we must continue efforts to contain its spread, it is also time that all countries, including Malaysia, prepare for the possibility of wider transmission.
“There are now reports of clusters of cases with no apparent link to China. The latest information suggests that the virus may be more transmissible than early data suggested.
“This does not mean that the virus will start spreading easily within Malaysia or elsewhere tomorrow, or perhaps ever – of course, we hope that it won't, ” he said in a statement Wednesday (Feb 12).
Dr Kasai said that while countries work hard to contain the virus, there should be preparedness in case it spreads more widely.
He said responding to wider transmission would require shifting the focus of efforts to protect the vulnerable and minimise health and social impacts.
He said that in the example of wider community transmission, there was a need to ensure health facilities could focus on treating the most vulnerable and severe cases.
“This may mean planning to switch away from medically isolating or quarantining everyone who is infected, to encouraging people with mild illness to stay at home to recover – so that healthcare facilities do not become overwhelmed.
“Steps must also be taken to ensure health facilities do not become places that amplify the virus' spread, infecting staff and other patients, ” he said.
Dr Kasai added that we have to be ready to make a switch away from testing all suspected cases and tracing the contacts of every person who has the virus, to instead applying limited testing capacity to monitor geographical spread and trends, then using this information to inform decisions about the most appropriate public health response.
He also said there was a need to consider the possibility of closing schools or postponing mass gatherings, if necessary, to reduce opportunities for the virus to spread.
“I understand why people are worried, as this is a new disease and there is much we still don't know.
“The best thing we can do is to be prepared.
“In addition to those measures governments can take, we all share a collective responsibility to take simple measures to protect not just ourselves as individuals, but our communities, including the most vulnerable, ” he said.
Dr Kasai said of all cases reported in China to date, around 2% of people have died while outside of Hubei province, the death rate among those infected is around 0.4%.