Had the health ministry prioritized people’s interest instead of politicians’ selfish interest and continued the previous close intra-governmental collaboration and data sharing, the daily infectious cases today might not have spread beyond control.
Less than a week into the New Year, Malaysia recorded another new record of 2,593 Covid-19 cases on Wednesday (Jan 6). On the same day, the backdoor government of Muhyiddin Yassin also reported four new fatalities, bringing the national death toll to 513. Total cases reached a whopping 125,438 cases, where 24,347 are categorised as active or infectious cases.
Malaysia was two places behind Myanmar (128,178 cases) on Wednesday. On the same day, the country saw 13 new clusters – the highest number recorded in a single day since the pandemic started in January 2020. In total, there were 252 active clusters in Malaysia. On average, each active cluster contributes to 96 active or infectious cases.
In essence, the ratio of Coronavirus cases to the country’s population of 32 million showed there was 1 case in every 255 people. It means there’s at least 1 Covid case in your condominium or apartment or neighbourhood. As much as he hates to say it, health director-general Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah finally admitted that the country’s healthcare system is at breaking point.
The once celebrity Dr Noor Hisham said on Wednesday – “This is a very challenging time for the Ministry in terms of our healthcare system as we have a large number of patients. Our healthcare system has been pressured and at a breaking point now because cases are increasing every day so we may not be able to accommodate patients in our facilities.”
The health director-general said the country needed a circuit breaker, warning that the situation was going to get worse and a more “targeted” approach of the MCO (movement control order) is needed to bring down the number of Covid-19 cases. In short, it was a confession that the pandemic has entered a critical stage called “out of control”.
Yesterday (Thursday, Jan 7), the country continues to break its own record – 3,027 new Covid cases and eight new deaths in the past 24 hours. The total number of infectious now shoots to 128,465 cases. Active cases skyrocket to 25,221 and deaths increase to 521. From one case in every 255 people the previous day, now the ratio becomes 1 case in 249 people.
The simple fact that Dr Noor Hisham had pre-emptively warned that a spike is about to happen just 24 hours earlier suggests that the health ministry actually knew that new cases will breach above 3,000 yesterday. In fact, the health director-general also warned that daily cases could hit 8,000 by mid-March based on Susceptible-Exposed-Infective-Recovered (SEIR) model.
But what’s the point of showing off all the technical mumbo-jumbo when the government has lost the bearing to the key of “flattening the curve”? Yes, the key to bring down the basic reproduction number (R-nought or R0) is a simple MCO lockdown and strict enforcement of SOP (standard operating procedures) – as proven when it was first introduced on 18 March 2020.
The country’s first and only MCO implemented in March 2020 was arguably a huge success in flattening the curve of the second wave. It was this success that led Dr Noor Hisham to be awarded the “Tan Sri” title, who then reciprocated by raining praises on backdoor Prime Minister Muhyiddin for making the so-called tough decision to combat the outbreak. But it was a short-lived one-time success.
The success has gotten into the head of the backdoor Perikatan Nasional government. Even before the power-hungry Muhyiddin regime started its second coup to snatch the state of Sabah which led to the Borneo state election and triggered the third wave, the “Tabligh” cluster saw how the health ministry and authorities were merely doing “fire-fighting” instead of taking proactive measures.
As early as April 2020, while the country was celebrating a plunge of Coronavirus infectious cases, there was one huge problem being overlooked – the lack of data in terms of the number of tests being done on a daily basis. Dr Noor only revealed the cumulative number of tests during his daily briefing but did not disclose the number of “tests on new patients”.
The numbers that the health director-general told everyone could be a mixture of tests on “existing and new” patients. Back in April 2020, the Health Ministry claimed that the country’s testing capacity for the Covid-19 stood at 11,500 samples a day and would be increased with the addition of five new laboratories in Tawau, Sandakan, Miri, Bintulu and Kluang.
However, according to Dr Amar-Singh HSS, a senior consultant paediatrician, the actual test availability back then was merely between 1,500 and 3,500. Even then, only about 20% of those tests were used to detect for the Coronavirus in the public. Hence, the remaining 80% of the tests were attempts to re-test confirmed cases or suspected cases which were negative in the first test.
Therefore, the testing capacity constraints would create thousands of pending tests every day. To make matters worse, the turnaround time to get results of tests could be as fast as 48 hours or at the worst case – five to seven days. In essence, the Health Ministry was basically “fire-fighting” instead of pro-actively detecting the spread of the virus by testing the community at large.
In mid-October 2020, some six months later, Health Minister Dr Adham Baba claimed that his ministry has increased its Covid-19 testing capacity to 54,706 a day. Yet, despite nationwide daily Coronavirus cases in three digits for three weeks since Sept 25, the same health ministry only utilised 46% of its testing capacity – 24,952 tests daily.
So, why boost the testing capacity to 54,706 only to underutilize it? Was it part of a gimmick to report low cases by controlling the number of daily testings? Why didn’t the health ministry use the excess testing capacity to proactively do swab tests on two million of its foreign workers, knowing very well the same time bomb had already exploded in neighbouring Singapore since April?
Singapore saw Covid-19 infections among its migrant worker population explode in April – from just 10 infections among workers living in dormitories (April 1) to 60% of 4,427 infections on April 16 being foreign workers. Hilariously, it was in April that Dr Noor Hisham said – “We are learning from Singapore, our migrant workers, we are embarking on a big scale screening of our migrant workers”.
But the health ministry was never serious about learning anything. Malaysia would wait until a massive outbreak occurred at the world’s biggest maker of rubber gloves Top Glove in December 2020 to do “targeted” mass testing of the company’s migrant workers. Even then, the 28 factories of Top Glove were closed in stages, despite four-figure cases of Covid-19.
The screw-up didn’t stop there. The health director-general defended a suspicious move to stop sharing data with the Selangor Task Force for Covid-19 (STFC) since the first week of October, which coincided with a surge in Coronavirus cases to three digits. Dr Noor claimed he would only share processed data (and not raw data) for better coordination.
Not only granular data (lowest detailed data) was being guarded with utmost secrecy and not to be shared, Dr Noor Hisham also announced that his ministry would also stop disclosing the locations where Covid-19 had been detected. He argued that the decision was made to prevent people and places of infections from being stigmatised and thus cause panic.
People wanted to know the locations of new Coronavirus clusters detected so that they can “avoid” such places for obvious reason. But for some strange reasons, after being awarded the “Tan Sri” title, Dr Noor Hisham somehow wants people to go to high-risk places and get infected instead. He had forgotten how the rate of infection remained relatively low during the first two waves.
Had the health ministry prioritized people’s interest instead of politicians’ selfish interest and continued the previous close intra-governmental collaboration and data sharing, the daily infectious cases today might not have spread beyond control. Like it or not, Dr Noor Hisham was partly responsible for the third wave, which started in September last year following the Sabah state legislative elections.
The Ministry of Health was responsible for its refusal to mandate a 14-day quarantine for Sabah arrivals in the Peninsular after the Sabah state election. In fact, health director-general Dr Noor Hisham was the same man who justified that a 14-day quarantine was not mandatory for Sabah arrivals because according to his logic, not all arrivals returned from red zones.
The Muhyiddin government thought it could easily flatten the curve of the third wave by imposing a partial lockdown, the CMCO (Conditional Movement Control Order), from Oct 14 and extended until December. However, the ineffective, milder and half-baked lockdown saw the lifting of travel restrictions on Dec 7 due to concerns about its impact on the economy.
Not only people were allowed to travel interstate for the Christmas and New Year celebrations, Tourism Minister Nancy Shukri has been telling – even encouraging – people to travel domestically. Heck, the government has even considered opening borders to boost tourism industry, even with new Coronavirus cases stubbornly staying above four digits.
Sure, the government must balance between health and economic factors. The prime minister said the economic lockdown would cost RM2.4 billion every day. But it was Finance Minister Zafrul Abdul Aziz, who bragged that the backdoor government has enough cash to fund its massive economic packages totalling around RM305 billion – the largest ever.
Unlike the first two waves, people no longer take seriously the importance of complying with the health SOPs largely because the backdoor government does not show good role models when they arrogantly break the same SOPs. Besides hypocrisy, double standards, flip-flopping and discrimination in enforcing the rules, people can see the indecisive and clueless government is fast losing the war.
Despite initial denials that hospitals were full, it has now almost reached full capacity. Suddenly, asymptomatic patients are encouraged to go on home quarantine, while infected patients are discharged early without screening. And we have not even seen the arrival of the B117 variant from the UK, let alone the super spreader South African variant. – Finance Twitter