Health experts have expressed concern over reopening economic sectors simultaneously and too soon as it could bring harm to the nation in its fight against the Covid-19 pandemic.
Epidemiology and biostatistics expert Dr Malina Osman said the government could still change its mind to preserve the good work achieved since the start of the Movement Control Order (MCO).
“Not all people would go back to work on Monday. Based on social media responses, a number still want to weather this period out.
“However, even if half of the population of Klang Valley or four to five million return to work while the infection rates remain at four percent based on testing, we are in trouble.”
Dr Malina cautioned that there were many asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic carriers who were not accounted for and could put the community at risk of Covid-19 infection.
“All it takes is one infected person in this mega exodus back to work and the situation can turn nightmarish very fast.”
She said this while drawing on cases in Hokkaido, Japan, and Germany, where they saw a spike in cases after easing lockdowns too soon.
Dr Malina said the MCO should be eased very gradually, sector by sector, and while it may be unpopular, airlines should be delayed from resuming operations for as long as possible.
“It should be done gradually and in stages from May 4 or 5 until May 12, not abruptly at this scale and across sectors and zones at the same time.”
She said Malaysia’s community compliance did not favour the current decision, especially with Hari Raya Aidilfitri around the corner.
Compounded with activities during Ramadan, she said, this would lead to an uncontrolled movement and trigger clusters even without the MCO.
For now, she advised the government to disallow any form of stalls to operate in the open and urged dine-ins to be deferred until after Hari Raya Aidilfitri.
Dr Malina also said the relaxation should be only for businesses and offices.
“Let it go on for one week and during that period, we observe again the surveillance results on Covid-19. If it is well controlled, then we can allow restaurants to allow people to dine in. Then only we should decide on the next step.
“In the meantime, social gatherings and recreational activities such as jogging and playing badminton should not be allowed to start.”
She said while the government mulled over this decision over the weekend, businesses should decide what’s best for public health.
Dr Malina also expressed concern over the safety of her colleagues working on the frontlines at hospitals.
“Even now their work burden is massive with more than 1,000 cases nationwide.
“They have been working without breaks and are under severe pressure to do their duties while caring for their families. Now they have to be extra vigilant.”
She also said the Health Ministry needed more time to screen and protect the elderly and other susceptible groups.
Epidemiologist Datuk Dr Awang Bulgiba Awang Mahmud said he had hoped that the easing would be done gradually as there was a lot of standard operating procedures to be worked out in a short period.
“The World Health Organisation has emphasised time and again the need to gradually ease restrictions based on second waves after such relaxations. This can be seen in the experience of places like Hokkaido.”
Now that the announcement has been made, he said, all one could hope for was for stakeholders in businesses and industries to quickly develop SOP with an emphasis on public health over profits.
Asked if this scale of relaxation of MCO restrictions would lead to a second or third wave, he said it would depend on how disciplined Malaysians were.
“If they do not follow good hygiene and physical distancing SOP, do not leave their names and actual phone numbers at restaurants for contact tracing purposes, and seek health treatment for coughs and fevers then a new wave of infections may happen.
“This is a challenge to all Malaysians. If Malaysians fail to rise to the challenge, then there is a real possibility that another wave of infections can happen.”
Dr Awang Bulgiba was, however, glad that the situation was somewhat mitigated with the government disallowing balik kampung and delaying the reopening of education institutions.
He said, for now, the health facilities were coping with the patient load due to a drop in active cases.
“However, with a second wave, the situation could very well change.”
Dr Awang Bulgiba said the main issue was that the pandemic was being perceived as a problem for the Health Ministry, instead of a national crisis.
“We need to put all our national resources together to end this, otherwise the health resources would be overwhelmed.” – NST