‘Longer period needed’

Testing times: A health personnel doing a swab test on a child in the mass Covid-19 Active Case Detection at the Refugee-Settlement Scheme in Kampung Muslim in Labuan. — Bernama

PETALING JAYA: More than two weeks may be needed to see a reduction in Covid-19 cases, which is subject to the effectiveness of the recovery measures, testing and isolation procedure, as well as whether sufficient people have been vaccinated, say health experts.

Universiti Putra Malaysia medical epidemiologist Assoc Prof Dr Malina Osman said it could take a longer period before the country could see a decline in the cases with the earliest being two weeks but could also be more than four weeks.

She pointed out that during the first movement control order, the cases peaked in 18 days before it declined while during the second MCO, it took 28 days for cases to reach its peak.

“During the national lockdown, the cases did not decline, particularly in Selangor and Kuala Lumpur, with the enhanced MCO later imposed in order to tighten preventive and control measures.

“For the past one week after the enhanced MCO, new cases have hit more than 9,000. Looking at the pattern of the data, we need more time during this round because of the high number of active cases,” she said, adding that factors such as backlogged Covid-19 cases also need to be considered.

Prof Malina attributed the rising number of cases in the country to aggressive screening and contact tracings in enhanced MCO areas as well as presence of variants of concern in the community.

She, however, disagreed that mass screening would help address the situation as she advocated for screenings to be done based on risk and exposure believing that continuing mass screening without proper isolation and management would waste public funds.

“In an ideal situation, we have to do screening at a certain regular period, which must be targeted and done promptly to curb the spread,” she said, adding that those who tested negative should be immediately vaccinated.

“In a mass spread like our situation now, mass screening is something which is impossible to be done and theoretically, no longer useful,” she said.

“The strategy now should focus more on mitigation and to continue with targeted screening.”

Prof Malina added that the current infectivity rate of 1.11 would plateau for the next one to two weeks, with a potential reduction to be seen after the period.

Health director-general Tan Sri Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah said on Saturday that the Health Ministry expects the daily Covid-19 cases to stabilise and decline in the next one to two weeks, with help from the nationwide vaccination drive and public health controls.

He said the spike in new cases over the last few days was due to more targeted screenings being implemented.

Universiti Malaya epidemiologist Prof Dr Awang Bulgiba Awang Mahmud said while the rise in cases in recent days was due to targeted testing in enhanced MCO areas, the number of tests conducted were still insufficient.

“The mass testing done in enhanced MCO areas meant that it was concentrated in localities where the community transmission is very high, so it would be expected that the number of infected persons picked up by mass testing would be high.“Mass testing will only be effective if it is done at a large scale, done really quickly and followed by vaccination,” he said, adding that a strict lockdown as well as ensuring sufficient testing rates and increasing immunisation were crucial to ensure a decline in Covid-19 cases.

Prof Awang Bulgiba pointed out that reduced testing of the population earlier in the year had caused the rise in community transmission and unlinked cases.

“This is borne out by the rising test positivity rate in April 2021 until it is well above 5% now. This is not a good sign as it means the authorities were missing cases in the community so the declining numbers in February and March 2021 were not real declines,” he said, adding that the country’s test positivity rates which had gone above 8% was a worrying sign.

Dr Awang Bulgiba also said as the vaccination rate in the country has improved, the immunisation programme needs to be sustained to ensure that a certain portion of the population was fully vaccinated to achieve some measure of herd immunity.

Medical Practitioners Coalition Association of Malaysia president Dr Raj Kumar Maharajah opined that despite the MCO, enhanced MCO and Emergency declared, people’s movement would be a hurdle in suppressing the Covid-19 spread in the country.

“Politicians are still breaking the law and so are the rakyat,” he said, adding that the rise in cases was due to weak enforcement and complacency by both the people and leaders.

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