Malaysia’s complacency with the Covid-19 pandemic after flattening the curve last year has made it worse during the present third wave, said Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad.
“The third wave began when we let our guard down and were careless with the public health measures that were needed to be set in place,” said the former health minister of the Pakatan Harapan government that lasted less than two years.
“The complacency caused the Ministry of Health (MoH) to fail in monitoring the return of politicians from the Sabah elections. On September 24 and 25, they were allowed to re-enter Peninsular Malaysia from Sabah without health screenings and quarantine.”
The quarantine requirement was only imposed from September 27, a day after the state elections were held.
Thus, only those who returned to the peninsula from that day on were screened but not politicians or campaign workers who travelled earlier.
Since that period, now considered the start of the third wave, the number of cases rose from the low triple digits at that point in time, to exceed 1,000 almost daily in the first week of November.
Since early January, new cases daily have been in excess of 3,000, hitting 5,728 on January 30 as the current record high. Daily cases dropped below 3,000 for the first time two days ago after nearly a month.
Malaysia has now recorded more than 200,000 cases, of which more than 50,000 are active. It also has more than 900 deaths since the onset of the pandemic.
Dzulkefly, the Kuala Selangor MP, also said the Perikatan Nasional government had celebrated too early when it was able to control the spread of the virus during the first movement-control order (MCO), which began on March 18 until early May last year.
“This was to the extent where some were saying that we did not need any vaccines. That was the optimism we had then.
“In the period of celebration, we became negligent and careless with the warnings given by epidemiologists, that sudden and drastic jumps can happen again,” the head of the Selangor Covid-19 task force told The Malaysian Insight.
MoH lost control of the situation because it did not use the time accorded from the first MCO to strengthen Malaysia’s public health capacity, he said.
This is now evident from the high number of BID or “brought-in-dead” Covid-19 patients, he said.
“During the first two waves, MoH would isolate and hospitalise all infected Covid-19 patients. But it cannot do so now because the system is overwhelmed and overburdened, causing MoH to change the SOP to only hospitalise category 3 and 4 patients.”
Dzulkefly, a toxicologist by training, also said the government did not improve the MySejahtera app quickly enough after launching it last May.
“We are now behind in the Covid-19 pandemic as the government did not equip itself with the right tools, such as automatic contact tracing, boosting the number of healthcare workers or using rapid test kit antigens.”
Using contact tracing as an example, Dzulkefly said the MySejahtera app should have incorporated automatic contact tracing and utilised Bluetooth technology to warn users about possible infections.
“In Singapore, Taiwan and South Korea, for instance, the app informs the user if the person has spent ‘too much’ interaction time with an infected person.
“The app then tells the user to go for testing.”
But despite more than a year into Covid-19 pandemic, Dzulkefly said MoH is still doing contact tracing manually.
“Some MoH officers, who are involved in contact tracing, have to make up to 600 calls a day. But how do you do that when the daily infections are in the thousands?”
He said MoH’s insistence on PCR tests, which takes three to four days to get results, instead of the one-hour rapid test kit antigen allowed positive cases to infect more people before they are isolated.
“PCR should be for clinical diagnosis while RTK can slow down the spread by immediately identifying the infected so that they can be isolated for treatment.” – TMI