Khairy: Health Ministry aims to improve data transparency

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The government aims at improving its data transparency in Covid-19 management by releasing in-depth and relevant information to the public from now on, said Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin.

“We will start releasing a variety of data that is in-depth. This would be granular data which we will provide openly to all, so that they can see beyond the data provided so far,” he said during his first press conference since taking over the portfolio.

Khairy expressed his gratitude to the Health director-general Tan Sri Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah as much data has been provided on the Github, an open-source platform.

“I have made a commitment that the work culture of the Health Ministry from now on would focus on transparency, so that the question of trust toward the government and the ministry’s response to the pandemic can be addressed.

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“There would be no more accusations of (government) secrecy and or being an information (stumbling) block,” he said on the back of criticism levelled against the ministry by experts of the dearth in granular data, as well as allegations that it was operating in a confidential manner.

Transparency has long been a point of contention during the pandemic, with some accusing the health ministry under Khairy’s predecessor Dr Adham Baba of not being open enough with its data.

In January, opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim called for greater transparency in Covid-19 statistics and vaccinations, at a time when daily cases hovered in the region of 3,000.

While additional data on deaths and positivity rate have recently begun to be shared by the health ministry, testing numbers have not been made readily available.

Similarly, public health experts Dr Amar Singh and Dr Khor Swee Kheng both called for more granular data early last month in an open letter, citing its importance in making policy decisions.

“Without granular data, we are unable to understand the needs down to the district/state level, cannot get a profile of risk, have difficulty monitoring the outbreak regionally, and may not be able to respond to local health service needs,” the pair said.

Also at the press conference was Dr Noor Hisham and his deputy Datuk Dr Chong Chee Keong.

Khairy also said that as Covid-19 becomes endemic, Malaysia needed to switch its approach similar to that in other countries.

“Even if we succeed in controlling the pandemic in terms of infections, deaths, or admissions, we have to be prepared that Covid-19 is (going to become) endemic, and we have to live with the virus. This is consistent with the approach of other countries, which has switched from total containment to an endemic phase.”

He said Malaysia too could prepare to enter the endemic phase that would allow various economic sectors to open and its people to live with a new norm.

“The government would announce some steps to simplify the SOP so that it does not become too excessive or complicated. When we enter this (subsequent) phase (in the National Recovery Plan) we will have clear SOP that everyone understands and can easily practice.”

Khairy said as preparation for the subsequent phase under the NRP, the government required the public to follow the SOP as the new norms, adding the ministry would not drop the mask mandate unlike in other countries abroad.

“Malaysia will be vigilant and the mask will be retained. We will also continue the immunisation programme to ensure that as many people in the country as possible get vaccinated.”

Khairy also said home quarantines would also be enforced under this phase, with individual responsibility playing a huge role in its success.

This would cover persons identified as close or casual contacts, persons under surveillance, as well as suspected or confirmed cases.

“Unless they have to seek emergency medical treatment, they will have to stay at home while waiting for their results after they are screened and tested, especially if they are close contacts.

“When we switch to this phase, it is important that we take personal responsibility for our home quarantine. If we can’t do this, we cannot live with the virus safely.

Khairy also quashed reports that all overseas travellers would be allowed to be quarantined at home.

“As of Aug 10, around 20,000 people have applied for home quarantine. However, we do not grant home quarantine for everyone.

“So far, the ministry has only approved 4,159 applications, and this is based on strict risk assessment that includes their vaccination status, test and travel history.

“From this, 404 people are wearing digital bracelets to monitor their home quarantine progress. Once we complete this pilot programme, we can roll this out to more people.”

Meanwhile, Khairy said intensified vaccination programme similar to the Operation Surge Capacity in the Klang Valley will be applied in states with high Covid-19 cases, namely Sabah, Johor, Kedah, Penang, and Kelantan that are seeing a surge in new cases.

“A sense of urgency needs to be adopted to address high Covid-19 transmission in some states, so that it can be resolved.

“We will bring the same intensity (to the vaccination programme) to the identified states, similar to what we had done in the Klang Valley.

“The states will be receiving more vaccines, along with transfer of medical personnel and equipment. This is to reduce the number of new cases in the states, boost vaccination rate and reduce the number of hospital admissions and deaths there.”

Khairy also stressed that there have been no deaths reported with any causal link to the Covid-19 vaccines.