What are Malaysia's Covid-19 plans for the festive and monsoon seasons?


A September 2020 photo of flood victims being evacuated from inundated settlements in Kapit division, central Sarawak. Could Covid-19 cases spread in crowded relief centres during this monsoon season? — Fire and Rescue Department Sarawak

It is the small gatherings in household settings that are fuelling the Covid-19 surge.

The director of the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC), Dr Robert Redfield, raised the alarm in October 2020 when reports showed that the spread of the virus in the community was taking place at social and family gatherings where people did not observe physical distancing or wear facemasks. This was due to people assuming that family members and friends were “healthy” and not infected since they did not show any symptoms. Infectious asymptomatic individuals then spread the virus to multiple people at just a single gathering. Dr Redfield called it the "silent epidemic" of asymptomatic Covid-19 infections in a tweet on Nov 5.

Size doesn’t matter. Any time people from different households get together, the risk of infection increases regardless of the size of the gathering.

It looks like the virus is spreading within the community this way in Kelantan. The number of cases in the state rose from just eight on Nov 3, 2020, to 73 on Nov 19, 2020. Kelantan could be the next Sabah, with a new strain of the Covid-19 virus spreading quickly across its districts and spreading even to neighbouring Terengganu.

As explained by Health director-general Tan Sri Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah, the spread of infections was caused by travellers to Kelantan who brought the virus from red zones such as the Klang Valley and Negri Sembilan. People from clusters in these red zones returned to the East Coast state and infected others.

When the government imposed the conditional movement control order in the Klang Valley on Oct 14, many knowingly travelled from there back to their hometowns, including Kelantan, before the order came into force. Asymptomatic people could be spreading the disease in their hometowns.

Now, with the yearend holidays approaching and the monsoon season already begun, what are Malaysia’s plans to prevent the spread of the virus from the country’s zed zones to green zones?

For instance, floods in Kelantan and elsewhere could raise the number of Covid-19 cases, as the virus could spread at crowded relief centres that flood victims are evacuated to.

The Health Ministry has said that Malaysians should not balik kampung, or return to their hometowns, and Dr Noor Hisham's advice too is to postpone balik kampung plans. But such advice doesn't seem to work with some people, which is why there’s that surge of cases in Kelantan.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has presented his government's "Covid-19 winter plan" at a Downing Street news conference on Nov 23, 2020. The plan presents a programme to suppress the virus, protect the country's beleaguered National Health System as well as vulnerable groups, keep education and the economy going, and provide a route back to normality.

So let's hear it from the Malaysian government. Once there is community transmission that is widespread, there is not a lot of good targeted interventions – whether enhanced MCOs or targeted enhanced MCOs – can do.

HAFIZ HASSAN

Bukit Baru, Melaka

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Covid-19 , floods , asymptomatic , balik kampung

   

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