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With MCO clock ticking, still no light at end of COVID-19 tunnel for Malaysia

The first week of the movement control order (MCO) has not brought the needed reprieve for Malaysia’s besieged healthcare system, with COVID-19 cases not only remaining high but also expected to climb further.

In his latest briefing on the country’s COVID-19 situation when he reported 3,631 more infections, Health director-general Tan Sri Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah warned the country that daily case numbers would still rise in coming days.

Critically, he also disclosed that the number of category four and five COVID-19 patients — those with respiratory infections requiring ventilators and those critically ill with accompanying organ issues — were now five times what they had been at the height of last year’s second wave.

The two categories as well as patients with severe acute respiratory infections in category three must be hospitalised for treatment, adding further pressure to the country’s capacity to accommodate active cases that were now just a hair under 40,000.

“As you can see now, cases involving treatment in the intensive care unit (ICU) and those requiring ventilators are gradually increasing as well,” Dr Noor Hisham said when disclosing the spike in serious and critical COVID-19 cases.

Worryingly for the country, category four and five COVID-19 patients are those most likely to never recover.

This was evident through the number of deaths Dr Noor Hisham has been reporting daily — 14 alone yesterday — that, when combined with his warning of rising in daily cases and the critically ill, suggested that the worst of the pandemic was still far ahead of the country.

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Already more deadly since the third wave, COVID-19 has been killing patients in Malaysia at an average of 100 a month since October but with 11 more days left in the month, January’s death toll is already 148 or more than all of Malaysia’s COVID-19 deaths in the first nine months of 2020.

Although authorities have now expanded the MCO to cover the entire country except for Sarawak, not all are convinced the current iteration of the move would bring about the results needed to give Malaysia’s healthcare time to recover.

Unlike March 2020 when the MCO had sent the country into an eerie stillness, states under the supposed lock-down have continued to bustle with activity this year, courtesy of relaxations that have allowed an eclectic range of businesses to keep operating physically.

Today, schools will also reopen albeit only for senior students preparing for key national examinations that were delayed from last year.

Time was also running out for the MCO, which Dr Noor Hisham previously assured the country would not go beyond a maximum of four weeks even if the first extension now appeared inevitable.

Some, such as former prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak, have been critical of the government’s decision to allow manufacturers to operate under the MCO, noting the incongruity between letting the sector responsible for most of Malaysia’s COVID-19 cases stay open and wanting to rein in COVID-19 case growth.

Malaysia has already squandered the chance to curb the third wave by not enforcing travel curbs in October, Najib said when warning that the country could not afford to pretend that it still had the COVID-19 situation under control.

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Citing Singapore’s explosion of COVID-19 cases last year when the republic overlooked its migrant worker population, the ex-PM said Malaysia could still take steps to avoid going through the same situation as its southern neighbour.

“We must learn from mistakes and take advantage of the lesson that stricter action is necessary early on to prevent the damage from becoming worse and prolonged,” he said.

Runaway COVID-19 case growth has already pushed Malaysia into allowing asymptomatic and mildly symptomatic patients stay at home as active cases exceeded hospital and quarantine centre capacity.

While it took from February to September 2020 for Malaysia to register its first 10,000 COVID-19 cases, the country added that and more in the last four days alone. ― Malay Mail

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