Covid-19 weekly round-up: Local transmissions, clusters need to be brought under control

-A +A

KUALA LUMPUR (July 31): Double-digit new cases involving local transmissions as well as new clusters have continued to emerge this week, much to the consternation of the health authorities that had expected Malaysia to record zero new Covid-19 cases by mid-July.

On Monday, Health director-general Datuk Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah warned of a third wave of Covid-19 infections in this country if the people continued to disregard the standard operating procedures (SOPs) set by the government to stem transmissions.

Out of the 39 new cases recorded on Tuesday, 28 were local transmissions — the highest ever reported since June 15.

Last Saturday, 17 out of the 23 new cases reported involved local transmissions and on Sunday, 10 out of 13 new cases. Single-digit local infections were reported on Monday (three out of seven new cases), Wednesday (five out of 13 new cases), and yesterday (five out of eight new cases).

Malaysia managed to record zero local transmissions on three days this month: July 1, 8, and 9.

Together with the eight new infections reported over the 24-hour period up to noon yesterday, the total number of Covid-19 cases in Malaysia now stood at 8,964.

Active cases have surged to 223, compared with 63 on July 9. Three patients are currently being treated in intensive care units with one requiring respiratory aid. The death tally remained at 124 (1.38% of total cases).

Further developments

Noor Hisham, meanwhile, has been appealing to the public to comply with SOPs such as wearing a mask and observing social distancing.

"The new clusters are like embers, and if we don't comply with the SOPs, it's like we are the fuel. So, when fuel mixes with embers it will cause a huge blaze and a sudden spike in cases," he said at a Covid-19 media briefing on Monday.

In view of the rising new cases in Malaysia, the government has made it mandatory for people to wear a mask when using public transport and in congested public places beginning tomorrow.

Effective last Friday, individuals (both citizens and non-citizens) returning from overseas must undergo 14-day quarantine at centres designated by the government.

This week's new clusters, as announced by the Ministry of Health, are as follows:
• Last Saturday: Bukit Tiram cluster involving a religious centre in Taman Bukit Tiram, Johor and Kuching construction company cluster.
• Tuesday: Sivagangga PUI (patients under investigation) cluster in Kedah and Satok cluster in Kuching, Sarawak.

Yesterday, Noor Hisham said there were still 24 active clusters in the country but none of them recorded new cases yesterday. Among the active clusters were the Mambong cluster and the Sentosa cluster, both in Sarawak.

In the meantime, the Bukit Bintang cluster, which included Kuala Lumpur and Selangor, has ended. It recorded 11 positive cases comprising 10 non-citizens and a Malaysian. It did not record any fatalities.

At a press conference last week, Noor Hisham said that the R-naught — the reproductive number which is an indicator of how contagious a disease is or how easily it spreads from person to person — had increased from 0.3 during the Movement Control Order period to 1.36.

He said if it rose to 1.6, Malaysia would see a sudden spike in Covid-19 cases.

WHO and global situation

Yesterday marked six months since the World Health Organization (WHO) declared Covid-19 a public health emergency of international concern.

WHO director-general Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, speaking at his weekly Covid-19 media briefing in Geneva, Switzerland on Monday, said it was the sixth time a global health emergency was declared under the International Health Regulations, "but it is easily the most severe".

Health emergencies announced by WHO previously included H1N1 (2009), Polio and Ebola in South Africa (2014), Zika (2016), and Ebola in the Congo Republic (2019).

"When I declared a public health emergency of international concern on Jan 30 — the highest level of alarm under international law — there were less than 100 cases outside of China, and no deaths. Over the last six weeks alone, the total number of cases has increased twofold," he said.

Tedros said as required under the International Health Regulations, he will reconvene the Emergency Committee later this week to re-evaluate the pandemic.

"Covid-19 has changed our world. It has brought people, communities, and nations together, and driven them apart," he said.

Covid-19 global 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 stood at 17,474,691 (15,673,511 cases last Friday) and 676,759 deaths (636,848 last Friday). The total number of recoveries stood 10,937,771.

The United States continues to head the list of badly hit nations with 4,634,985 cases (4,169,991 cases last Friday) and 155,285 fatalities.

Brazil is at the second spot with 2,613,789 cases and 91,377 fatalities. India is at the third spot with 1,639,350 cases and 35,786 deaths. Russia is fourth with 834,499 cases and 13,802 deaths.

Another 20 countries have recorded cases exceeding 100,000, namely:
• South Africa 482,169 cases (7,812 deaths)
• Mexico 416,179 (46,000)
• Peru 407,492 (19,021)
• Chile 353,536 (9,377)
• Spain 332,510 (28,443)
• The United Kingdom 302,301 (45,999)
• Iran 301,530 (16,569)
• Pakistan 277,402 (5,924)
• Colombia 286,020 (9,810)
• Saudi Arabia 277,042 (2,842)
• Italy 247,158 (35,132)
• Bangladesh 234,889 (3,083)
• Turkey 229,891 (5,674)
• Germany 209,663 (9,221)
• France 186,573 (30,254)
• Argentina 185,373 (3,441)
• Iraq 121,263 (4,671)
• Canada 115,799 (8,929)
• Qatar 110,460 (171)
• Indonesia 106,336 (5,058).

China, where the outbreak was first reported at end-December 2019, is now on the 28th spot with 84,165 cases and 4,634 deaths.

In Southeast Asia, Indonesia, which has joined the top 24 countries with more than 100,000 cases, heads the list with 106,336 cases and 5,058 deaths. The Philippines is next with 89,374 cases and 1,983 deaths. Singapore has recorded 51,809 cases while its death tally remains at 27. Thailand has 3,304 cases and 58 deaths.

Vietnam’s Covid-19 cases have risen to 509 and so far it has not recorded any fatalities. Myanmar now has 353 cases and six deaths. Brunei's tally remains at 141 cases and two deaths, while Laos has 20 cases and no deaths.

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 could 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 and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome.

A study of the virus' genetic sequence suggested similarities to those 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 already 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.