Numbers likely to taper down soon

Safety first: A worker at a shop in Klang placing stickers marking the distance customers should keep from one another in line with the SOP. — Bernama

PETALING JAYA: Health experts have weighed in on the government’s projection of Covid-19 cases, with a virologist voicing optimism that the numbers will decline once all testing has been completed.

Universiti Malaya virologist Prof Dr Sazaly Abu Bakar believes that infections would drop by the end of next week after all the tests were done in the prison clusters.

“After they have tested all those whom they are supposed to test, we will get the full numbers. From then on, I believe the numbers should start going down,” he said.

“In two weeks’ time, I believe it will drop to low double digits unless something happens, perhaps a large gathering happening somewhere again.”

Last Tuesday, Health director-general Tan Sri Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah shared a graph on Twitter projecting the course of Covid-19 cases with an infectivity rate (R0 value) of 0.3, 1.5, and 2.2.

With a R0 of 0.3, it is forecast that cases will taper down to below 500 by Oct 31, whereas with an R0 of 1.5 and 2.2, the number of cases will rise to more than 1,000 and 4,500 cases respectively by Oct 31.

To flatten the curve, Universiti Malaya epidemiologist Prof Datuk Dr Awang Bulgiba Awang Mahmud said it would depend largely on what actions were taken, the speed in carrying out the actions and whether infections had spread outside a confined locality.

“The more localised the outbreak, the easier it would be to control the infection. If there is widespread community spread outside the prison walls, then it will take a longer time,” he said.

Dr Awang Bulgiba urged the government to take proactive steps in preventing another prison outbreak by taking steps such as reducing the prison population, regular screening of prison inmates and staff as well as regularly sanitising prison facilities.

He also expressed concern over the rising cases in Sabah, noting that new infections in the community there showed no signs of slowing down.

Dr Awang felt the projection by Dr Noor Hisham needed to be refined, adding that the numbers were based on the Rt estimates for the entire country. (Rt is an indicator of how fast Covid-19 is spreading.)

He noted that the Rt was “influenced by many things”, including the susceptibility of the population, exposure of the population and infectiousness of the virus.

“A national Rt is not useful for infection control if infections are highly localised and concentrated in a certain population like inmates in jail. It needs to be by locality or by cluster,” he said.

Universiti Sains Malaysia medical epidemiologist and biostatistician Assoc Prof Dr Kamarul Imran Musa also said the R0 could not be generalised for the entire population, noting that the R0 outside an institution (prison or detention centre) would be much lower.

Dr Kamarul believes it would take “at least two months” to completely flatten the peak – if it can be reached in two weeks.

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