PETALING JAYA: Malaysia’s Covid-19 cases can drop to two digits by May if the R0 or R-naught continues to be on a downward trend, says the Health director-general.
Tan Sri Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah said the daily estimated R0 was 0.9 as of Feb 21.
“We are now seeing a plateau in cases. We hope to bring the R0 to 0.5, and if we can sustain that rate, we may see new cases being halved and hope to see two-digit numbers by May, ” he said in his keynote address at the “Forward Malaysia: Charting New Paths to the Next Normal” webinar organised by Newcastle University Medicine Malaysia here yesterday.
The R0 of a virus is a measure of its transmission or the number of new infections generated by each case.
He said Malaysia managed to bring down the R0 before, which resulted in zero daily cases at one point during the second wave of Covid-19 infections last year.
He added that during the second wave around March to June last year, the R0 was at 3.3 and was successfully brought down to 0.3.
In March, the country was put under the movement control order (MCO) and when infections eased, it shifted into recovery MCO on June 10.
In the third wave in September, the R0 was at 2.2 and while conditional MCO was imposed, certain economic sectors were allowed to operate but social activities were prohibited.
“We managed to bring R0 down to 1.2, but it became difficult to bring it down any further, ” he said.
Dr Noor Hisham said one of the reasons was due to travellers flouting the standard operating procedure when interstate travel was allowed on Dec 7 and that led to the numbers spiking around Christmas and New Year.
On Jan 13, the government once again imposed the MCO to control infections as cases soared, hitting 5,725 on Jan 29.
Dr Noor Hisham cautioned that just because the R0 was lower now, the country was not out of the woods and reminded Malaysians to continue adhering to the SOP.
Separately, he said health experts were taking steps to address the mortality rate of the disease.
While the mortality rate has decreased to 0.38%, the number of patients succumbing to the disease is increasing.
“Last year, a total of 471 people died, but the death toll this year has already hit 585, ” he said.
He said out of the 1,056 people who died, 88% of them were locals and had comorbidities.
He added that 88% of those who died were also at the critical stage 4 or 5 of the disease, where patients were likely to have inflammation in the lungs and required oxygen or ventilator support.
Dr Noor Hisham said the Health Ministry would continue to use public health measures to control the disease and bring down mortality rates.
It also wants to step up testing capabilities and monitor the National Vaccination Programme which began on Wednesday and was expected to be completed in the first quarter of 2022.
“The vaccine will certainly help but we still need to embrace the new norms. The vaccine gives us internal protection while public health measures protect us externally, ” he said.