Three years on, the battle is not yet over

PETALING JAYA: Three years after the first Covid-19 case in Malaysia was detected, the country is in a far better place than it was at the beginning of the pandemic.

However, the virus is here to stay, say health experts.

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Although there are now ways to treat and fight the virus, Malaysians must never let their guard down.

Prof Dr Moy Foong Ming of Universiti Malaya, a public health expert, said Malaysia has been one of the best countries in managing Covid-19 and has handled the pandemic well despite some initial hiccups.

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“With the commitment and sacrifice of frontliners, namely those from healthcare, defence, security and essential services, we now have low hospital admissions, Intensive Care Unit (ICU) usage, and Covid-19 deaths,” she said.

Prof Moy said that while public awareness of Covid-19 health protocols was high with the constant reminders from the government and media, people should practise extra vigilance by keeping their vaccination status up to date.

“Currently, the uptake of first and second boosters among the elderly is only 71.6% and 5.9%.

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“The elderly and the high-risk groups should take their boosters to prevent severe symptoms. We know the effectiveness of the vaccine will wane over time,” she said.

Public health expert Prof Dr Sharifa Ezat Wan Puteh of Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia said the high number of deaths was unavoidable at one point as there was a severe health resource shortage and a lack of facilities, as well as proper isolation centres.

“At the time, we were highly exposed, as not many were vaccinated, and we were hit by the Delta variant, which has high virulence and high transmissibility.

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“The enforced movement control order (MCO) was the right move as it helped in infection mitigation,” she said.

Dr Sharifa Ezat said that as the country approaches endemicity, there was still a need to be wary of new variants.

“There could be new Variants of Concern (VOC), which can be more contagious or have higher virulence.

“We also need to keep track of local variants circulating and if a possible variant is in the country,” she said.

Besides Covid-19, Malaysia’s burden of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) such as obesity, hypertension and stroke are also high.

“Thus the people need to monitor their own diseases and try to stay healthy by making better choices such as avoiding smoking, going for routine blood glucose checks, regular pap smears, and so on,” she said.

Universiti Putra Malaysia epidemiologist and biostatistician Assoc Prof Dr Malina Osman said Malaysia success in managing the pandemic was even more remarkable considering the political crises that saw three prime ministers in three years.

“Even though we had many challenges from those who disagreed with the pandemic management, vaccines and some regulations, the majority of us managed to stay together, providing full support for the excellent handling of the pandemic,” she said.

Dr Malina said the Health Ministry did an excellent job and also praised the National Security Council (NSC), which took charge during the pandemic.

Universiti Malaya professor of epidemiology and public health Prof Dr Sanjay Rampal said while the Health Ministry responded well to the initial pandemic, future resilience would be highly dependent on investments in public health and healthcare systems.

“Improving disaster resilience and strengthening public health and healthcare systems will be more cost-effective ways to prepare for future health threats,” he said.

Health director-general Tan Sri Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah expressed his appreciation to all frontline workers who worked tirelessly during the pandemic and expressed his condolences to those who lost family members or friends due to Covid-19.

He said three years have passed in the blink of an eye.

The first case was detected on Jan 25, 2020, when it was still known as 2019-nCoV.

As of Jan 24, Malaysia had reported a total of 5,035,073 cases, 36,932 deaths, and 4,988,143 recoveries.

“We are still in the phase of transition to endemicity, so obey the recommendations and health advice that is often stressed, namely avoiding the 3S (Sesak or crowded; Sempit or confined space; Sembang Dekat of close conversation). Practise the 3W (Wash, Wear, Warn) too.

“Continue to practise TRIIS (Test, Report, Isolate, Inform and Seek) and get the primary dose or booster dose of the Covid-19 vaccine,” he said in a statement yesterday.

Dr Noor Hisham was named chair of the World Health Organization’s Standing Committee on Health Emergency Prevention, Preparedness, and Response in recognition of his efforts in managing the pandemic.

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