‘Tighten SOP at sources of infection’

Spot check: Policemen from IPD Serdang making sure vendors are following the SOP at Pasar Borong Selangor in Seri Kembangan. — AZHAR MAHFOF/The Star

PETALING JAYA: In the course of just one week from Jan 17, the country recorded 28,706 new Covid-19 cases, which account for 15.6% of the total cases since the beginning of the pandemic in January last year.

The healthcare system has been burdened with many frontliners suffering burnout.

To further curb the spread of infection, health experts believe that stricter measures should be implemented at sources of infection such as at the workplace and have urged the public to comply with the government’s standard operating procedure (SOP).

Universiti Malaya virologist Prof Dr Sazaly Abu Bakar said the government was aware the virus was spreading within workplaces, and thus needed to limit its spread there.

“They know it is coming from the construction sites and factories. They must take strict measures and not allow them to operate.

“There is no point in locking down the whole country but allowing this to go on unimpeded. They should take whatever measures necessary to make sure that there is no spread within the community, ” he added yesterday.

The government, Dr Sazaly said, also had to acknowledge that they were unable to do everything on their own – the epidemiology investigation, patient care, research and even controlling the vaccine.

He suggested that contact tracing be handled by a different team, perhaps by enrolling volunteers or NGOs, as well as for testing to be liberalised, noting that GPs (general practitioners) all over the country should be allowed to carry it out.

“Research is also important as it will allow us to find new ways and measures to deal with the country’s own situation.

“If the ministry wants to do everything, we will not have any innovation of our own. It is about time the ministry allows other people to come in to help out, ” he added.

Dr Sazaly cited the way China had stopped the transmission of the virus, adding that the country should emulate them by having “absolutely no movement of people” as that was the only way to stop the disease from spreading.

He suggested that the authorities should conduct more widespread testing as not enough was being done.

Dr Sazaly opined that the government, too, should bring in a new group of people to look into the issues, adding that those within were perhaps going through mental fatigue.

Universiti Sains Malaysia medical epidemiologist and biostatistician Assoc Prof Dr Kamarul Imran Musa said the current measures were already good enough but the problem lay in whether they were being implemented effectively by individuals and corporations.

“The problem is we see people not adhering to the SOPs; social distancing rules, wearing a face mask and sanitising their hands.

“Factories and corporations are still allowing gatherings and meetings in confined spaces.

“The principles are there but they are not being implemented effectively and followed strictly, ” he said, stressing that a significant number of cases had come from the workplace.

Dr Kamarul noted that the most effective way to cut off transmission of the virus now was to ensure the public did not move around and for them to follow the SOP.

However, Universiti Malaya epidemiologist Prof Datuk Dr Awang Bulgiba Awang Mahmud believed that it was no longer possible to have a movement control order that was strict enough without hampering economic and business activities.

“The fact that we are having a second MCO reflects a failure of pandemic management for which the country is paying for dearly.

“If lessons coming out of the first MCO were heeded, we would not be in this perilous situation, ” he added.

He expressed his disappointment at the ministry’s reluctance in engaging with experts outside the government, adding that double standards in the implementation of SOP had also not helped the situation.

Dr Awang Bulgiba said his calls to look into the issues of migrant workers, the implementation of workers’ minimum standard of housing and amenities, targeted interventions, big data analytics and syndromic surveillance (which leads to targeted contact tracing before big clusters happen) had all been ignored.

To manage the high caseload in the country, the government has allowed home quarantine with the establishment of 213 Covid-19 Assessment Centres (CAC) nationwide that will help manage Covid-19 patients who are undergoing home treatment.

Dr Kamarul commended the establishment of the CAC, noting that most who had tested positive for the virus needed guidance as they did not know what they should or should not do.

“By having a dedicated CAC, it will maintain close communication with the patients to ensure that they adhere to the SOPs and is able to refer the patient to the hospital should the patient develop worsening symptoms, ” he noted.

But Dr Kamarul questioned whether the ministry had the resources to man the CAC.

However, Dr Awang Bulgiba believed that the CAC would be ineffective as the staff in the district health offices had been overstretched.

Instead, he said, using CosMoS, a mobile application technology developed by Universiti Malaya aimed at patients who were undergoing home quarantine, could reduce the burden on healthcare workers monitoring these patients.

“I am really surprised that the ministry is not using this. I told the ministry about this tool in October 2020, but this idea was not taken up, ” he said.

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