2020: A year in pandemic turmoil, but vaccine brings hope

KUALA LUMPUR (Bernama): The nation has fought against Covid-19 since the beginning of the year, but the battle is far from over.

It has been a year of uncertainties and as we draw the final curtain down on 2020 – the coronavirus is still raging around the globe, with a new strain emerging that has resulted in lockdown measures in several countries.

Covid-19, first reported in Wuhan, China and declared a pandemic by the World Health Organisation (WHO) in March, the disease has now infected more than 80 million people worldwide and has claimed almost two million lives.

Closer to home, Malaysia has reported 106,690 cases and 455 fatalities due to Covid-19 as of Dec 28.

The pandemic has essentially affected everyone's lives one way or another, and by large impacted a wide spectrum of livelihoods – economy, businesses, travel, education and even religious activities and social gatherings.

Despite the welcome news that Malaysia will be receiving Covid-19 vaccines in February, the country remains cautious after reports that that the new Covid-19 variant had been detected in Sabah.

On Dec 23, the Health Ministry said that the new Covid-19 mutation, A701V, which had been detected in the Benteng LD cluster in Sabah had passed on to the vast majority of third-wave clusters in Peninsular Malaysia and Sabah.

The pandemic may still take some time to be completely wiped out, and the best option for survival for now lies on individual behaviour and responsibility in terms of complying with standard operating procedures (SOPs) set.

As Malaysia prepares for all sorts of possibilities, the country's spokesman on public health issues, Health director-general Tan Sri Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah continues to drum home the message that the war against Covid-19 is hardly over.

"Success breeds complacency. Complacency breeds failure. Our greatest fear is when we let our guards down. Please continue to comply with the SOPs as I have been reminding everyone at every opportunity, (that) the onus now is on us to break the (chain of) Covid-19 transmission."

The first case of Covid-19 in Malaysia was detected on Jan 25, involving three Chinese nationals who had crossed over from Singapore into Johor on Jan 23, triggering the pandemic's first wave with 22 cases reported, the majority of which were imported. That wave ended on Feb 15.

The country was then free of Covid-19 for 11 days before a second wave hit on Feb 27 that saw a spike in cases, many of which were linked to clusters involving the Sri Petaling gathering, the Immigration Depot as well as several other smaller clusters.

The Sri Petaling gathering cluster, first identified on March 11, turned out to be the country's largest Covid-19 cluster, recording 3,375 positive cases, ending only on July 8.

The large numbers from that cluster also led to the government deciding on the movement control order (MCO) effective March 18, which was unprecedented, at first yielding some success to the point of registering zero cases on June 9 and July 8 respectively.

The government then took the initiative to keep the public well-informed on the pandemic through Senior Minister (Security) Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob and Dr Noor Hisham's daily media updates.

Malaysia then went through its recovery phase, but it was also during this period – September to be precise – that the virus began raging again, this time involving transmissions among prison inmates and illegal immigrants in Sabah and Kedah, and also due to the failure to comply with SOPs during the Sabah election.

Dr Noor Hisham has admitted that the third wave of Covid-19 infections has been far more challenging as it involves the D614G mutation strain that possesses a higher infectivity rate, although adding that its spread was more controlled this time around.

Despite the country being hit by several Covid-19 infection waves, the Health Ministry's early, aggressive and proactive action and ability to successfully control the spread of the virus is no mean feat, including on the international stage.

The Health Ministry's excellence in this matter was proven when Malaysia was recognised as one of the most successful countries in the world in handling and controlling the Covid-19 pandemic, including by WHO, with the Health Ministry even going on to receive BrandLaureate's Excellent Healthcare Service Provider award in July.

Not only that, Dr Noor Hisham also was also named as one of the top three medical specialists in the world by the Chinese Global TV Network (CGTN), the 2020 Tokoh Maal Hijrah and also was awarded the title of Tan Sri at the 2020 Federal Awards in conjunction with the Yang di-Pertuan Agong's birthday.

However, Dr Noor Hisham was also quick to point out that these recognitions in the war against Covid-19 were a result of the collective efforts of the Health Ministry health team led by four of its "generals" – Deputy DG (Medical) Datuk Dr Rohaizat Yon, Deputy DG (Public Health) Datuk Dr Chong Chee Keong, Deputy DG (Research and Technical Support) Dr Hishamshah Mohd Ibrahim and Director of the Disease Control Division Datuk Dr Norhayati Rusli, as well as all frontliners.

Meanwhile, the country's efforts to contain the pandemic were also blighted by several controversial events, such as international news agency Al Jazeera's inaccurate report on how Malaysia treated its foreign workers, the "DG takut mati" (afraid of dying) claim hurled by an MP and the issue of SOP violations involving dignitaries and ministers.

The country was also shocked with the news of Minister in the Prime Minister's Department (Religious Affairs) Datuk Seri Dr Zulkifli Mohamad Al-Bakri testing positive for Covid-19, which led to almost the entire Cabinet, including Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, being ordered to undergo quarantine.

The Health Minister himself, Datuk Seri Dr Adham Baba, also went under a 14-day home quarantine early this month after being identified as a close contact of a Covid-19 patient.

To ensure preparedness, the Health Ministry has allocated 6,055 beds to treat Covid-19 patients nationwide and 22,145 beds in 86 Quarantine and Low-Risk Treatment centres.

Besides this, laboratory capacity nationwide to conduct tests so far is currently at 63, including private laboratories that can handle up to a total of almost 60,000 tests every day.

The world now is pinning its hopes on an effective vaccine and Malaysia will get its supply from several pharmaceutical companies starting early next year to meet the immunisation needs of up to 70% of the population.

The Prime Minister had previously said that the distribution of vaccines to Malaysians will be free and done gradually by prioritising high-risk groups, including frontliners, the elderly and patients with non-communicable diseases (NCDs).

The Covid-19 pandemic not only needs to be seen as a medical crisis but also must be characterised by the lessons learnt and wisdom gained, and there have been plenty.

The virus has completely changed Malaysians' lives by forcing us to embrace and adapt to new norms such as wearing face masks in public areas, practising physical distancing, paying more attention to personal hygiene and the way we socialise and work.

What is abundantly clear though is that 2021 that will soon dawn upon us will be one of hope that the virus that has upended life as we knew it, will meet a much welcome demise. – Bernama

Covid-19 in Malaysis: Facts that figure

1. The daily with the highest number of cases was Dec 26, with 2,335 cases.

2. The first case on Jan 25,2020 involved three Chinese nationals who entered the country from Singapore.

3. The first two deaths recorded on March 17 involved the 178th and 358th cases, a Malaysian man attending a tabligh gathering in Seri Petaling and a 60-year-old man in Kuching, Sarawak.

4. The first local infection detected was on Feb 6 involving a woman in her 40s.

5. The youngest death involved a one-year-old Malaysian baby girl on Oct 6.

6. The oldest fatality involved a 130-year-old male foreigner on Nov 2.

7. The highest daily death toll was recorded on Nov 3 with 12 fatalities.

8. A 12-day-old baby is among the youngest patients to be infected in the country, a case on March 26.

9. So far, the largest cluster is the Seri Petaling cluster involving 3,375 positive cases, of which the first case was detected on March 11.

10. The number of clusters as of Dec 28 is 489.

11. The highest daily recovery tally was on Nov 26, with 2,555 cases.

12. As of Dec 28, Sabah has reported the highest cumulative cases with 36,231 infections, followed by Selangor with 29,969 and Kuala Lumpur with 12,690 cases

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