There are now in excess of 10,000 new Covid-19 cases and over 100 deaths each day. There is little sign that these figures will decrease any time soon.
Malaysia has always been more susceptible to any epidemic. The nation’s porous borders, and an average population density of 99 people per sq km, having densities in excess of 2,000 people in urban areas, makes any disease transmission difficult to suppress.
There are only 1.6 hospital beds available per 1,000 people and 3.3 functioning intensive care unit (ICU) hospital beds per 100,000 people.
In contrast, Italy, which last year ran out of ICU capacity due to a massive outbreak of severe Covid-19 cases, has 12.5 ICU beds per 100,000.
Malaysia also has a high incidence of diabetes, hypertension, obesity, heart and respiratory diseases and cancers among the population. This makes many Malaysians extremely vulnerable to contracting Covid-19 severely.
It also has another vulnerable demographic, with those aged 65 or above comprising 7% of the population, or 2.23 million.
These factors have made Malaysia a disaster waiting to happen. The government and health authorities took no early preventative measures, or even attempted to educate the public about the dangers of the virus for the vulnerable in the community.
Gatherings, which could potentially lead to superspreading events like the Sri Petaling Tabligh Jemaah last year, were allowed to continue, even though the risks were well known. The Sri Petaling incident became not just an epicentre for Malaysian cases, but the region as well.
Malaysia is now in a state of desperation. Industry and commerce is stalled, people are hoisting make-shift white flags as an SOS for food assistance, and police reports have been made against health minister Dr Adham Baba, director-general of health Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah and the health ministry for refusing to adopt the drug Ivermectin for high-risk Covid-19 patients.
Videos criticising the government’s handling of the pandemic dominate social media.
Suffering is worse than the disease
The suffering caused by the lockdown is causing more damage than the disease, bringing anguish and desperation to so many in the community. Experience in other countries is indicating that lockdowns will not eliminate the virus, after suppressing case numbers.
There will always be another outbreak, followed by another lockdown. This vicious cycle is damaging not just to the economy, but society as a whole.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has never recommended blanket lockdowns as they cause too much community suffering.
The national recovery plan (NRP), announced by Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin on June 15, specifies that current restrictions will only be eased when national cases fall below 4,000 per day. Covid-19 is not going away for a long time, and this arbitrary figure does not consider the severity among cases.
Malaysian case statistics indicate that 1.4% of active cases are severe, requiring an ICU level of care. Therefore, the load on ICU is the critical metric, not the aggregate number of daily cases.
Malaysia’s Covid-19 death rate is currently at 227 per million, one of the lowest per-capita rates in the world.
The country’s primary Covid-19 eradication strategy is mass vaccination. This is seen as the solution to returning to normality. However, recent data from studies in Israel and the UK show that rates for “breakthrough infection” (where a vaccinated individual becomes sick from the same illness that the vaccine is meant to prevent) in those two countries are 50% and 43%, respectively.
Vaccines cannot eliminate Covid-19. There is already talk of people requiring booster shots.
Malaysia’s rollout of public inoculations has been slow and haphazard. Although nearly 15% of the population have been fully vaccinated, many of the vulnerable have not had access to the vaccine yet. The programme is totally dependent upon imported vaccines.
The once heralded Malaysian biotechnology initiative has failed the country in providing a local vaccine source.
Long extended lockdowns have been the result of vaccine mismanagement. This is leading to an even bigger disaster than the disease itself. More than 30,000 companies closed forever last year, and many more will close during this latest extended lockdown. This has led to the loss of almost one million jobs.
About 30% of retail shops have closed down, leaving more than 300,000 without jobs in the retail sector.
Many families are in crisis, unable to feed themselves. This has led to the “bendera putih” or white flag movement, where distressed families put out a white flag outside their houses as a plea for assistance.
People are crying out for help and expressing their anguish on social media. The suicide rate is rising, with 468 suicides recorded by police in the first five months of this year, many in a desperate bid to end their problems.
Government assistance during restrictions and lockdowns has been scant and lacks any medium to long-term programmes to assist those in chronic need, like the unemployed, over this extended period.
The MCO isn’t the solution
It has become very clear the movement control order (MCO) strategy to lower case numbers is not working. The longer the MCO continues, the greater the hardship to the people, and the greater will be the damage to the economy.
Gross domestic product (GDP) fell 0.5% in the first quarter of 2021, following a contraction of 3.4% in the last quarter of 2020. This latest MCO is expected to severely depress GDP in the second and third quarters of this year.
There needs to be an urgent transition from the MCO strategy to treat Covid-19 like any other infectious disease, an approach other countries are beginning to contemplate. This requires an alternative strategy based upon what has been learnt about the virus and various strategies employed by countries around the world, over the last 18 months.
This is especially the case, where Malaysia may not be able to afford any new stimulus packages in the future, according to Fitch Solutions.
Any lockdowns should only be applied to the aged and vulnerable. Lockdowns should be specifically targeted. Statistics indicate that 87% of deaths in Malaysia have occurred with those who were identified with comorbidities.
The rest of the community should be allowed to continue on with their economic activities. With over 800,000 full recoveries from 950,000 cases, and more than 10 million who have received their first vaccination, there is more immunity within the population than at the beginning of the year.
In the absence of health ministry modelling, that from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation in the US indicates that daily deaths will reach a peak in August and begin to decline.
With Covid-19 sure to linger around for a long time to come, it is necessary to embark upon preventative programmes. This should be related to how best people can build up their own health and personal immunity to disease.
This requires an investment in education and community level programmes.
This has been the most neglected tool against the spread of Covid-19 to date and should in the medium to long term minimise the impact of future outbreaks upon the community.
The medical profession has leant a lot about the treatment of Covid-19 cases since the beginning of the pandemic in December 2019.
Many treatments have now been the subject of research trials and a number of medicines and treatments show positive results. Covid-19 is a curable disease for most with treatment.
Most cases need not be treated in hospitals or other medical facilities, and can be treated at home with mobile medical teams, taking great pressure off hospitals.
The government needs to undertake major investment to increase the capacity of hospitals, particularly the number of ICU beds. Firm arrangements need to be put in place with the private medical sector under an emergency plan that can be automatically activated, if need be.
The feasibility of infectious disease hospitals, once part of colonial times, needs to be re-evaluated, along with state quarantine facilities, and a firm quarantine plan, with procedures.
The fallacy of lockdowns is that they are not complete ones, and disease still infects people through holes in the lockdown. There is no point forcing people to stay at home and placing heavy fines upon those who breach restrictions if factories are allowed to operate without adhering to SOPs.
Factories are where many outbreaks are occurring. This is the hypocrisy of the MCO. Inconsistency is rendering lockdowns ineffective, costing the community dearly.
There is growing evidence that the end-results from countries that select the lockdown strategy and those that don’t are very similar.
The only exception is the countries that chose the lockdown strategy suffer steep declines in GDP and put their communities under great financial and emotional duress.
They become lockdown losers.