Scholar: Malaysia’s virus fight above expectation

  • Nation
  • Friday, 08 May 2020

PETALING JAYA: Malaysia is beating brutal Covid-19 expectations, says Stewart Nixon, a research scholar at Australian National University (ANU).

According to Nixon – who is experiencing the movement control order (MCO) firsthand as a research visitor at Universiti Malaya – to the casual observer, the country’s handling of the Covid-19 outbreak may seem bungled.

“Media reports highlighted a mass religious gathering later linked to thousands of infections and the Ministry of Women’s advice that wives maintain a presentable appearance and avoid nagging under lockdown, ” wrote the Crawford School of Public Policy research scholar in the East Asia Forum.

But he argued that “Malaysia’s response deserves greater recognition as a meaningful example for countries that have insecure borders, significant mobile and vulnerable populations, larger households in denser living conditions and less than ideal political situations”.

Nixon noted that the country’s surge in infection came just two weeks after a political crisis that saw Perikatan Nasional taking over the Federal Government.

“Malaysia’s efforts have been spearheaded by the reassuring leadership of Health director-general Datuk Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah, whose resume combines a depth of medical knowledge with formidable public policy experience. “He and the frontline professionals at the Health Ministry have been supported by politicians to lead the response rather than being overshadowed by them.

“Activities have been consistent and nationally synchronised and public messaging clear, factual and accessible across new and old media. A strong and well-resourced public service with depoliticised leadership is proving invaluable, ” said Nixon, who added that central to the recent success was aggressive contact tracing and strategic testing.Like others, he said Malaysia struggled to scale up and broaden testing at the beginning of the surge.

“Without optimal testing volumes, Malaysia has had to rely on extensive tracing to identify persons of interest and was early to adopt random testing of cold and flu cases. Officials also approach persons of interest directly to compel screening.

“And since late March, virus hotspots have been quarantined under enhanced lockdowns and mobile testing has been deployed to all residents regardless of symptoms.

“All positive cases are hospitalised to prevent the spread of Covid-19 among households and communities, with makeshift hospitals erected to increase surge capacity, ” he said, adding these measures respond to the testing and containment challenges facing Malaysia.

Nixon said Malaysia arguably had a clearer picture of community transmission and overall virus spread than Australia, despite appearing to have tested less.

He said this was a result of expanded testing at the height of the recent infection surge and testing full sample populations.

“With increasing global evidence of widespread asymptomatic transmission and 80% of all infections presenting symptoms less severe than a common cold, testing biased by self-selection based on symptom presentation creates dangerous underestimations of a potential outbreak, ” he said.

Nixon said the swift and firm move into lockdown on Mar 18 had been critical to limiting the spread of Covid-19 and isolating cases.

“Conveying the seriousness of the situation has encouraged cooperation among residents regarding social distancing, ” he said.

“Malaysia has fewer overall cases than Australia and much of its population has virtually no financial buffer to economic hardship, yet there is widespread support among citizens for the continuation of lockdown measures.”

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