A Bernama photo-file of Health officials preparing to enter a covid-19 distribution area in Kuala Lumpur.

KUALA LUMPUR: “The burning embers have to be doused before it turns into a raging fire” is what Tan Sri Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah said when announcing the current Covid-19 infectivity rate which has hit a critical level.

Speaking during a question and answer session with the media after a Covid-19 briefing on Thursday, the Health director-general said if the situation becomes more critical, the Ministry of Health’s (MoH) chances of ‘controlling the fire’ will become slimmer. This will lead to a sharp spike in cases and fatalities, similar to what is happening in other countries.  

Dr Noor Hisham’s concern is understandable as Covid-19 cases have been rising sharply this week with the emergence of new clusters in Kedah and Sabah.

On Tuesday, Sept 8, new cases expanded to 100 – the highest number of new infections recorded since the recovery movement control order was enforced in June.

Over the weekend (Sept 5 and 6), only six cases were reported respectively. On Monday, the number rose to 62, Wednesday 24 and Thursday 45.

Dr Noor Hisham is also clearly worried about the current Covid-19 R-naught (R0) value which stood at 2.34 on Wednesday and fell to 1.78 on Thursday.

An R0 greater than one means that the virus will likely keep spreading.

He had earlier explained that the emergence of new clusters has caused the R0 to rise. The R0 refers to the infectivity rate of a virus at the start of an outbreak within a community.  

On Aug 26, the R0 stood at 0.74 but by Sept 8, it had climbed to 1.72. The steep increase is indicative of the high risk of transmissions in the community.

Before the enforcement of the movement control order on March 18, the R0 value was 3.55. According to Dr Noor Hisham, an R0 of less than one for a continuous period will help to break the chain of Covid-19 infections in Malaysia.

Spike in active cases

With the 45 new cases reported over the 24-hour period up to noon on Thursday, the total number of Covid-19 cases in Malaysia stood at 9,628 and active cases 333.

The new cases comprised one imported case and 44 local transmissions involving 33 citizens and 11 non-citizens.

On Thursday, 24 patients were discharged, bringing the total number of recoveries to 9,167 (95.2 percent of total cases).

Nine patients are currently being treated in the intensive care unit with five requiring respiratory aid. The death toll remained at 128 (1.33 percent of total cases).

Active clusters

As of Thursday, there were three active clusters, namely Benteng Lahad Datu and Tawau, Sungai (Kedah, Penang and Perlis), and Telaga (Kedah and Penang).

Benteng Tawau cluster: 1,909 individuals have been screened, out of which 83 tested positive and 625 negative while 1,201 are still awaiting results.

Benteng LD (Lahad Datu) cluster: 770 have been screened out of which 87 tested positive, 291 negative, and 392 still awaiting results.

Sungai cluster: 1,456 have been screened; 39 tested positive and 1,017 negative; and 400 are still awaiting results.

In Penang itself, 122 individuals have been screened, out of which 43 tested negative while 79 are awaiting results. In Perlis, out of the seven screened, one tested positive and three negative while three are still waiting for their results.

Telaga cluster: a total of 4,673 individuals in Kedah have been screened. 13 tested positive and 4,524 tested negative while 89 are awaiting results. In Penang, out of the 47 people screened, 46 tested negative while one person was still waiting for the result.

Emco, border control

Following the hike in cases in the Sungai and Telaga clusters, the government has implemented the administrative enhanced movement control order (Emco) in 28 Mukim (sub-districts) within Kota Setar, Kedah, which started at 12.01am on Thursday and will commence until Sept 25.

Senior Minister (Security Cluster) Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob said the Malaysia-Thai border at Bukit Kayu Hitam will also be closed until the Emco ends.

Administrative Emco has also been enforced at Tawau Prison from Sept 11 to 25.

Meanwhile, beginning Sept 7, the Malaysian government has imposed entry restrictions on 23 countries that have registered more than 150,000 Covid-19 cases.

The list of nations includes the United States, Brazil, India, Russia, Peru, Colombia, South Africa, Mexico, Spain, Argentina, Chile, Iran, United Kingdom, Bangladesh, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, France, Turkey, Italy, Germany, Iraq, Philippines, and Indonesia.

The travel restrictions, however, do not apply to diplomats and their families, expatriates and skilled workers.

Between April 3 and Sept 9, a total of 119,268 travellers entered Malaysia. Out of this number, 995 tested positive for Covid-19 – 742 when they were screened upon arrival and 253 after they underwent the second screening on the 13th day of their quarantine.

Global Covid-19 statistics

According to CoronaTracker (which cites figures from various agencies including WHO), the total number of Covid-19 cases worldwide at the time of writing this article stood at 28,324,870 (26,486,344 cases at the same time last Friday) and 913,913 deaths (873,470 last Friday). The total number of recoveries stood at 20,324,870. 

The United States continues to head the list of badly-hit nations with 6,588,163 cases (6,335,244 last Friday) and 196,328 deaths (191,058 last week).

India has overtaken Brazil to the second spot with 4,559,725 cases and 76,304 deaths. 

Brazil is third with 4,239,763 cases and 129,575 fatalities. Russia is fourth with 1,046,370 cases and 18,263 deaths.

China, where the outbreak was first reported at end-December 2019, is now on the 39th spot with 85,153 cases while its death toll remains at 4,634. 

In Southeast Asia, the Philippines and Indonesia have joined the countries with more than 100,000 cases. Next is Singapore with 57,229 cases while its death tally remains at 27, followed by Thailand with 3,454 cases and 58 deaths. 

Myanmar has recorded 2,009 cases and 14 deaths, followed by Vietnam with 1,059 cases and 35 deaths.

Cambodia’s cases remain at 274 with no deaths reported. Brunei’s tally remains at 141 cases and two deaths and Laos’ at 22 and zero fatality.

Covid-19 background

According to the WHO website, its China country office was informed of cases of pneumonia that were detected in Wuhan on Dec 31, 2019. On Jan 7, the Chinese authorities confirmed that the novel coronavirus can be transmitted from human to human.

Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that cause illnesses ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-COV).

A study of the virus’ genetic sequence suggested similarities to that seen in snakes and bats. China health officials identified the Huanan Seafood Market in Wuhan as the source of the transmission of the coronavirus.

On Feb 11, WHO announced the official name of the virus, Covid-19, which is an acronym for coronavirus 2019 – CO stands for corona, VI for virus and D for disease.

On Jan 30, WHO declared the coronavirus outbreak as a global emergency. By then, it had spread to 18 countries and caused 170 deaths. On March 11, Covid-19 was declared a pandemic by WHO.

WHO has described the Covid-19 outbreak as 10 times more dangerous than the A H1N1 Influenza, also known as Swine Flu.

Swine Flu, which occurred between January 2009 and August 2010, infected more than 1.6 million people and caused 18,449 fatalities.

The International Monetary Fund has warned that the global economic recession caused by the Covid-19 pandemic will be worse than the Great Depression of the 1930s. – Bernama