Preparing for a pandemic

PETALING JAYA: Malaysia is preparing for the possibility of a Covid-19 pandemic, Health Ministry director-general Datuk Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah (pic) says.

“We are preparing for the worst and hoping for the best, ” he told Sunday Star.

He was responding to the World Health Organization (WHO) cautioning countries to brace for a potential Covid-19 pandemic.

On Friday, WHO raised its assessment of the global coronavirus risk from “high” to “very high, ” the most serious assessment in its new four-stage alert system.

It was reported that a steady stream of new cases across the globe have fuelled the fear that the coronavirus epidemic may be turning into a pandemic, with some health officials warning it may be inevitable.

“We will continue to strengthen surveillance at international entry points, ” said Dr Noor Hisham.

“We are also actively tracing the Covid-19 virus in the community and among patients with severe acute respiratory infection in our intensive care units.”

Read also: Face-to-face with Covid-19

WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus insisted the virus could still be contained but cautioned that countries should do everything they can to “prepare for a potential pandemic”.

In Malaysia, tests for Covid-19 so far for patients in hospitals and clinics with severe acute respiratory infection and influenza-like-illness have been negative.

This shows that there has yet to be any case from local transmissions of the virus.

However, countries have been warned to keep their guard up.

“This is a reality check for every government on the planet, ” Dr Michael J. Ryan, deputy director of WHO’s health emergency programme, was reported as saying.

“Wake up. Get ready. This virus may be on its way.”

In South Korea, Italy and Iran – the countries with the biggest outbreaks outside China – the governments reported more than 3,500 infections, about twice as many as two days earlier.

Several Middle Eastern countries also reported their first confirmed cases, based on reports.

On Friday, Brazil, Georgia, Greece, North Macedonia, Norway, Pakistan, and Romania reported their first Covid-19 cases.

A case in Nigeria, meanwhile, raised fears that more infections might lurk undetected in the African continent.

More than 83,000 people in at least 56 countries have been infected, and more than 2,800 have died.

Selangor Health Department director Datuk Dr Sha’ari Ngadiman said a pandemic would require a change of protocol from the current phase of disease containment.

The protocol during a pandemic would be aimed at protecting vulnerable groups like the elderly and those with medical conditions to mitigate the situation.

“At present, contact tracers can still connect how cases are connected from the circle surrounding an infected patient, ” he said.

“But if we start to find cases outside such circles – unlinked or sporadic cases, it could mean that the virus is not contained anymore.”

Infectious disease specialist Datuk Dr Christopher Lee stressed Malaysia could not afford to be complacent.“The outbreak is very active in many areas globally.

“Movement into our country from these new epicentres is still a very likely possibility, ” he said.

On the possibility of a pandemic, Dr Lee said the ministry had expanded its monitoring of travellers from high disease burden countries.“Measures like early case detection and testing, prompt isolation and case management and thorough contact tracing with the appropriate quarantine procedures will boost our defence.”

“Nevertheless, society still has a major role to play and that is to raise the level of personal hygiene as individuals and as a country.

“This is to slow down the spread of Covid-19 within our communities if or when it was to get into our country, ” he said.

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