‘Figures don’t show fast virus spread’

PETALING JAYA: The current Covid-19 effective reproduction number (Re) does not indicate that the virus is spreading rapidly compared to the first phase of the movement control order (MCO), say health experts, in spite of the D614G coronavirus super spreader that was detected in the country.

Universiti Malaya epidemiologist Prof Dr Awang Bulgiba Awang Mahmud said that the Kedah clusters were being contained now, so he did not think they are proving more difficult to handle than before.

“The worry now is the Sabah clusters, as this is a mix of Malaysians and non-Malaysians, ” he said.

As of last Sunday, Sabah recorded an Re of 1.7 while in Kedah it was 1.58.

Re is an indicator of how fast Covid-19 is spreading. It shows the average number of people who contracted the virus from an infectious person.

On the source of infections in Sabah, Dr Awang Bulgiba said it was not clear but there was a possibility that they originated from neighbouring countries.

“I have always cautioned about the lack of data on the prevalence of the disease among our migrant population as we have not tested enough of them.

“I am not sure what strain is prevalent in our neighbouring countries but because the D614G strain is so prevalent in other countries, there is always that possibility that the D614G is also prevalent there, ” he said.

Universiti Sains Malaysia medical epidemiologist and biostatistician Assoc Prof Dr Kamarul Imran Musa also believed that the Re would not reach the levels in March as the Health Ministry is doing effective surveillance and prevention strategy.

“At that time (first phase of MCO), I believe Re was around 2.5 to 3.5. The ministry is quick in doing intervention, contact tracing is very effective, testing is also more accessible and more available now and the results from the tests are quicker to obtain, ” he said.

However, he noted that there was definitely an increase of Covid-19 spreading in the community based on the number of active cases, which is higher than the past two to three weeks.

Dr Kamarul said the current Re could not be generalised for the entire country, as the number was dependent on the location of the spread and the degree of effectiveness of the control and prevention activity as well as the movement of migrants.

While the D614G coronavirus strain has so far been detected in the Sivagangga, Tawar, and Ulu Tiram clusters, Dr Kamarul said there was not enough evidence to show that the strain was the main cause for the increase in cases.

“Why the spread has happened in Sabah is perhaps due to the possibility of migrants and those missed cases that were already in the community, ” he said.

Apart from those clusters detected for the D614G strain, Health director-general Tan Sri Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah said they were still doing isolation and culture of the virus to determine whether other clusters also had the same strain.

He said facts and data were needed first before such a conclusion could be made on whether the D614G strain was spreading within the community.

There are currently 15 active clusters as of Sept 22. Out of the 15, eight clusters were from Sabah while three were from Kedah.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, there have been 113 clusters with 98 of them having ended.

Universiti Putra Malaysia medical epidemiologist Assoc Prof Dr Malina Osman said the clusters in Sabah appeared to have spread faster than the clusters in Kedah.

“Until yesterday, the data has showed that there were a total of 665 active cases and more than 70% was from Sabah.

“The active cases, newly diagnosed cases and the five-day moving average of Covid-19 infections showed higher numbers compared to the last eight weeks.

“To me, the situation is a bit alarming as it may lead to a potential new wave, ” she said.

Dr Malina believed that the targeted enhanced MCO should be initiated in the affected areas, similar to what was done in Kedah.

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