Experts: Not the time to take Covid-19 lightly

PETALING JAYA: Despite the government moving the emphasis away from the number of Covid-19 cases, health experts say this does not mean that the virus should be taken lightly, noting that the situation could be under-reported.

They say the actual figures could be much higher than reported, given that many have not tested themselves, along with unreported positive cases.

They also advised the public to continue to adopt precautionary measures such as mask wearing, physical distancing and hand hygiene.

Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia health economy and public health specialist Dr Sharifa Ezat Wan Puteh said the actual number of cases could be up to 30% higher than what is currently reported.

“This lax attitude in the reporting of positive cases is concerning as these individuals have the potential to spread the virus to those who have yet to be vaccinated, such as children.

“Similarly, there is also concern of spreading it to immunocompromised groups including the elderly or even those with high comorbidities,” she said.

Dr Sharifa Ezat was asked to comment on yesterday’s statement by Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin on phasing out the emphasis on daily infection numbers to be in line with the transition to endemicity.

He added that due to the relaxation of Covid-19 testing protocols, the number of actual cases is also bound to be more than reported.

Dr Sharifa Ezat said among the reasons why people choose to conceal their positive results is the wish to continue with work or their social life.

“This is unethical and selfish because the person is continuing to expose the public to risk and can cause community infections,” she said, adding that those who have suspected infections should isolate themselves and carry out the necessary procedures.

Dr Sharifa Ezat also said schools should be prepared for potential instances of students showing symptoms of Covid-19 but added that many have already prepared an isolation room.

“The room should at least be attached to the toilet, with someone trained also monitoring the student during the isolation period.

“At the same time, facilities such as self-test kits should be readily available as a precautionary measure,” she said.

Universiti Putra Malaysia’s consultant clinical microbiologist Prof Dr Zamberi Sekawi agreed with the government’s move of shifting the focus to severe cases which involve hospitalisations and deaths.

“Instead of the number of reported cases, a better indicator to evaluate the burden of the disease on our healthcare system is indeed cases requiring admissions and also fatalities,” he said.

He also noted how the positivity rate of conducted Covid-19 tests would be a good indicator to evaluate whether sufficient tests have been conducted.

“According to the World Health Organisation’s threshold, countries with more than a 5% positivity rate should actually conduct more Covid-19 tests, to paint a better picture of the overall situation.

“Given that Malaysia has a 9.9% positivity rate as at Aug 6, it could indicate that we should be conducting more tests to get a more accurate figure,” he said.

As at Aug 6, Malaysia’s positivity rate stands at 9.9% with only 26,238 tests reported to be conducted that same day.

On the current wave of cases, Dr Zamberi, who is also the Malaysian Society of Infectious Diseases and Chemotherapy president, said it is still unclear how things will pan out due to the unpredictable nature of the virus.

“The most important thing is that our healthcare system will be able to cope with it,” he said.

Both experts also reminded the public that not reporting positive cases is an offence under Section 22 of the Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases Act, which risks a jail term of up to two years, a fine, or both.

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