LAST Friday, Sarawak reported 960 new Covid-19 cases, a record high for the state, which also topped the nation’s daily figure on that day.
It was an alarming turn of events as by this time, Sarawak’s daily new infections became among the highest in the country.
The state has reported triple-digit daily figures since mid-February and topped the nation’s daily tally at least 10 times this month.
It is a frightening and stark contrast to last year when Sarawak was hailed as a model state for flattening the Covid-19 curve, keeping numbers low and maintaining green zones in the majority of its districts.
On Dec 31, the state’s cumulative tally of cases stood at 1,117 with 19 deaths, while 36 of its 40 districts were categorised as green zones and only four were yellow.
According to the Health Ministry’s classification, green zones are districts with no active cases, yellow zones with one to 20 cases over a two-week period, orange zones with 21 to 40 cases and red zones with more than 40 cases.
Fast forward to April 20 and Sarawak’s cumulative tally shot up to 25,129 cases with 141 deaths. Only four districts remained green, while 21 were red zones, four orange and 11 yellow.
This ongoing surge of infections has been blamed on poor compliance of standard operating procedures, especially during social gatherings, as well as inter-district movements.
Cases began to spike in early January when a woman who returned from Johor to attend a funeral from Dec 29 to 31 at Pasai Siong tested positive on Jan 7.
This resulted in the Pasai cluster, which jumped to triple digits of confirmed cases in just a few days and remains the largest cluster in Sarawak to date. When the Pasai cluster finally ended on April 13, it had recorded 2,693 cases and 29 deaths.
Data from the state disaster management committee showed that funerals contributed to eight clusters with a total of 3,612 cases and 31 deaths to date this year. Other social events, including family gatherings, birthday parties, festive visits and cockfighting, resulted in 22 clusters with 1,053 cases and five deaths.
In addition, inter-district travel led to 506 cases and eight clusters since January this year.
To contain the spread of Covid-19, the state government has opted not to reimpose the movement control order, but to maintain the conditional MCO, which is currently in place until April 26. At the same time, an enhanced MCO will be enforced at targeted areas experiencing a spike in cases.
Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Tun Openg explained that a blanket MCO would burden the economy and affect livelihoods, while the targeted enhanced
MCO had been successful in containing the spread at longhouses, neighbourhoods and workplaces.
In addition, as a circuit breaker, all schools and educational institutions in red zones have been closed for two weeks until May 3.
Tighter controls have also been enforced for inter-district movement, with only essential services allowed to cross districts with police permission.
These measures are aimed at breaking the chain of infection, but clear directives, proper enforcement and public cooperation are needed for them to be effective.
Even without the MCO, for instance, people can choose not to go out unnecessarily or to take away food instead of dining out. With so many cases linked to social gatherings, we need to avoid or put off such gatherings for now.
We also need to keep adhering strictly to the SOP – wear face masks, observe physical distancing, practise hand hygiene, avoid crowded places – as poor compliance has contributed to the spread. Leaders not only need to get this message across but also set a good example in complying with the SOP.
On the part of the authorities, any directives or measures introduced to tackle the pandemic need to be communicated clearly so that people understand what they need to do.
To flatten the curve again, everyone has to play their part.
What happened in the last four months is a lesson not to let our guard down but to remain vigilant and disciplined in the fight against the pandemic.