KUALA LUMPUR: Public health experts in Malaysia are calling for a strict lockdown as the nation continues to face a surge in coronavirus cases.
On Thursday, authorities reported 7,857 new confirmed cases of COVID-19. It was the third consecutive day on which the number of infections in the country has hit a record high.
The total number of cases in Malaysia, which has a population of nearly 33 million, now stands at more than 541,200, and nearly 2,500 people have died of conditions related to COVID-19. It is the third worst-hit country in Southeast Asia, after Indonesia and the Philippines.
With increasing numbers of new cases reported since April, the government has tightened precautionary measures several times — including restrictions on interstate travel and business operating hours, and limiting staffing levels in offices to 40 percent of capacity — but so far has stopped short of ordering a complete lockdown.
“The current tightened MCO (movement control order) measures are not sufficient to halt the rise (in cases),” public-health expert Lim Chee Han, from international research and advocacy organization the Third World Network, told Arab News.
“For any effective control measures to significantly and rapidly cool down the pandemic, the authority has to ensure the number of people’s physical interactions and contacts in the community can be reduced to the minimum.”
He added that the government must take more decisive action, especially in districts with the highest rates of infection. Merely shortening business hours, he said, could cause more harm than good as it means more people gathering in public places such as supermarkets at the same time.
“People should be protected from highly probable exposure to infection, and subsequently getting sick and (potentially) dying from COVID-19, as this would help relieve the burden and stress on local public healthcare, too,” he added.
Malaysia announced on Thursday that it has procured an additional 12.8 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine to ramp up its immunization program. However Lim said that at this stage vaccinations alone might not be enough to bring the pandemic under control in the country.
“For the current new wave of the pandemic, it may be too late to wait for the vaccination effect to keep things in control,” he said.
“The government should consider applying a ‘ring vaccination’ strategy to communities where the caseload is high, when they have more supplies: Vaccinate the close contacts of confirmed patients as well as their immediate circle of family members and friends in the community, so that this forms a ‘firewall’ to contain the spread.
“The authorities should also consider moving the vaccination campaign directly into the community, saving residents the trouble of registering and attending appointments elsewhere later.”
Malaysia launched its immunization campaign in late February but many people have complained about troublesome registration procedures. So far only 4.3 percent of the population has been vaccinated.