Archive for the ‘Health’ Category

‘China virus outbreak aid isn’t just about money’

Friday, February 14th, 2020

KOTA KINABALU: The special fund to help China deal with Covid-19 outbreak as announced recently by Chief Minister Datuk Seri Mohd Shafie Apdal should be viewed beyond monetary assistance, said Federation of Chinese Associations of Sabah (FCAS).

Welcoming the effort, FCAS President Tan Sri TC Goh noted that some quarters had questioned the initiative.

“It is not about the money, but instead our sincere love, concern and care for them…our friends in China are fighting really hard against the virus,” he said after a contribution hand-over ceremony from SME Association of Sabah to the fund, here, Thursday.

“This is not only a China problem, but also the world as you can see today, due to Covid-19, the economy is affected.

“We hope that with a united support from all quarters, China can overcome this as soon as possible so that the world can enjoy economic rebound soon.”

Goh stressed that the amount of money is not an issue as “China has everything.”

“But we want to show and send our love as well as our concern to China to show that when they are in trouble, we are also with them and they are not working alone.

“And when the situation has returned to normal, please do come back here to enjoy their holidays,” he said.

He added one of the main business sector in Sabah is tourism.

“The contribution to the special fund is a token of appreciation from us and any amount will do.

“Every business starts from friendship and when your friend is in trouble, you must offer your help.”

To this end, he said, FCAS has agreed to jointly-organise a charity dinner together with the State Government to raise the special fund.

“So far, the respond for the dinner and the fund has been good and we are confident that we can achieve the initial target of RM1 million set by the Chief Minister,” he said.

Meanwhile, Goh said the Covid-19 outbreak had given a very good reference and lesson to all quarters.

“After the change of government, our Chief Minister had kept on urging the tourism industry to diversify.

“And now is the right time to diversify and create more markets – we cannot depend on a single market.”

He said, Sabah is lucky as it still receives tourist arrivals from South Korea and Japan.

“However, these tourists are more on the four to five-star hotels.

“China tourists are more of a free and easy types, so when they are no longer here, the other hotels, souvenir shops and normal restaurants are affected,” he said.

As such, he hoped the government will provide assistance to the local businesses as well.

“I am expecting the hard time will last for at least six months.” The contribution from SME Association of Sabah was handed over by its President Foo Ngee Kee.

By: Ricardo Unto.

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Tawau dengue cases worry

Wednesday, February 12th, 2020

TAWAU: Sabah Health and People’s Wellbeing Minister cum Tanjung Papat assemblyman Datuk Frankie Poon Ming Fung said the number of dengue cases has spiked slightly in recent months at Tawau hospital and that some of the patients are from Semporna.

He said the fact that cases are increasing daily at the hospital is worrying and, his ministry would to hold in-depth discussions shortly to seek a long-term solution.

Varied programmes and campaigns would also be planned to raise awareness on dengue prevention he told reporters after a working visit to the hospital Monday. Also present were state assistant minister cum Sri Tanjong assemblyman Datuk Jimmy Wong, Sri Tanjong community development unit leader Koo Hung Eow, Sri Tanjong Chief Development Officer Woo Soon Fatt and team members.

On the parking problem at Tawau hospital, Frankie said he would bring this up for discussion in his Ministry while also look into the proposal to build a multi-storey car park combined with other necessary facilities on a 3.9-acre site land next to hospital. He said, the mammogram screening machine is expected to arrive middle of this year.

On other matter, Frankie disclosed that the RM10 million reconstruction of the Air Panas Old Folks’ Home here is being implemented and it is expected to be completed by 2020.

He described the project as excellent for residents of Tawau, who would enjoy better and more comfortable facilities. The existing old buildings would be demolished and staff quarters and administrative building built  under the second phrase.

He said once completed, the new building can accommodate more than 80 occupants at one time compared to the current 40. He said it is the government’s priority to ensure the convenience of senior citizens and that the community can continue to live actively and enjoy affection.

On the Coronavirus, Frankie reminded the public to maintain personal hygiene at all times and avoid crowded spaces. The state Health Ministry is also monitoring the supply of face masks in the market and conducting checks to ensure that nobody takes advantage by hiking the prices of face mask.

By: Christy Chok.

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First coronavirus patient in Malaysia recovers

Wednesday, February 5th, 2020

Health officials with the girl’s family at the Sultanah Maliha Hospital in Langkawi. — Pix courtesy of KKM

KUALA LUMPUR: A four-year-old girl from China, admitted at the Sultanah Maliha Hospital in Langkawi after being infected by novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV), has recovered and allowed to return home, a Health Ministry official said today.

She is the first of 10 patients in Malaysia – nine of them Chinese nationals – to have been cured from the infection.

Health director-general Datuk Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah said the girl, who was treated at an isolation ward since Jan 29, has been discharged from the hospital.

“The results of the 2019-nCoV detection test conducted twice on the patient turned out negative (of the novel coronavirus).

“She is now in good health and allowed to leave (discharged from the hospital).

“This showed that the 2019-nCoV infection is treatable and that patient can fully recover, similar to many other cases that have been reported in China.

“Perception among the public that the 2019-nCoV is fatal (could not be treated) after one has been infected by the virus is certainly wrong,” said Dr Noor Hisham in a statement today.

Chinese health authorities had announced Monday that a total of 475 patients had been discharged from hospitals after recovery by Sunday.

By Adib Povera.

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First Malaysian tests positive for Wuhan coronavirus

Tuesday, February 4th, 2020

KUALA LUMPUR: A 41-year-old man from Selangor has become the first Malaysian to be infected by the novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV).

The Malaysian had travelled to a neighbouring country for a conference with international delegates, including some from China.

Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad (pic) said the Malaysian man has a travel history to Singapore and the ministry had contacted the republic for contact tracing.

He attended the meeting from Jan 16 to 23 and returned to Malaysia on Jan 23, said Dr Dzulkefly.

On Jan 29, he sought treatment from a private hospital for cough and fever and was referred to Hospital Sungai Buloh on Feb 2, he said in a press conference to announce the update of the 2019-nCoV cases on Tuesday (Feb 4).

He was one of two new cases reported in Malaysia.

The other was a Chinese national aged 61 who arrived in Malaysia on Jan 18 and started having mild fever on Jan 23.

He sought outpatient treatment at a private hospital and was placed under home surveillance for 14 days.

On Feb 2, his fever persisted and he was admitted to Hospital Kuala Lumpur to receive further treatment and a lab test the following day was positive for 2019-nCoV.

He is currently being treated in an isolation ward and is in stable condition.

With the two new cases, the total cumulative number of cases is now 10; five cases from among patients under investigation (PUI) and another five from close contact with positive cases.

Asked how big of a group the Malaysian man had been in contact with and whether there was cause for alarm since he has been moving freely for days, deputy Health director-general Datuk Dr Chong Chee Kheong said that the ministry had just received the information on Monday (Feb 4) night and would contact the family members and friends, as well as those he met during the meeting who had been in close contact with the man.

“We are investigating with our neighbouring country to find out where the infection took place,” he said.

Dzulkefly said that besides the Malaysian case, the other nine are Chinese nationals.

He said the total number of coronavirus cases as at 6pm from Jan 10 to Feb 3 were 213 from among PUI – 122 Malaysians, 86 Chinese nationals, one Australian, one Korean, one Jordanian and one Brazilian and one Thai.

From the 213 cases, five were tested positive, 188 negative and 20 still waiting for laboratory test results.

The number of close contact of positive cases was 36 and out of the 36, five were confirmed positive and were in stable condition – four were admitted to Hospital Sungai Buloh, Selangor, and one in Hospital Permai, Johor.

Dzulkefly said the other 27 close contact were tested negative and four more were still waiting for test results.

Of the 107 Malaysians and their families stranded in Wuhan, China, who flew in here on Monday, 105 were ferried by buses to a surveillance centre and two with symptoms were sent to HKL.

Asked about what will be done for the rest of the Malaysians in China, Dzulkefly said it will be handled by the Foreign Ministry, which will update the Cabinet.

“We did not expect logistics issue to prevent them from reaching the airport on time,” he said.

A special AirAsia flight bringing Malaysians and non-citizen family members home from Wuhan the epicentre of the 2019-nCov outbreak, landed at KLIA at 5.57am Tuesday (Feb 4).

There were 133 passengers on the flight instead of the expected 167, which departed from the Wuhan Tianhe International Airport at 1.26am.

This comprised 107 who were brought home from China besides 12 crewmembers, eight humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HADR) mission personnel and six officers from the Malaysian embassy in Beijing.

The 107 were among the 141 Malaysians and their families who had registered with the Malaysian Embassy to be flown back to Malaysia.

They were stranded in China following the coronavirus outbreak, which led to the lockdown of Wuhan, Huanggang and Ezhou cities in the Hubei province in China.

According to the National Disaster Management Agency in a statement on Tues (Feb 4), the 34 did not make it for the flight due because they were outside Wuhan and could not get transport to Wuhan or to the airport.

AirAsia flight AK8264 departed from KLIA2 for Wuhan at 3.50pm Monday (Feb 3) and arrived at Wuhan Tienhi International Airport at 9.10pm.


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Coronavirus — don’t treat it lightly

Sunday, February 2nd, 2020
Datuk Dr Mohamed Alwi Abdul Rahman (third from left), as well as staff and volunteers from Selayang Hospital, all set and equipped to conduct training for the board members and staff of the Malaysian Red Crescent Society on Friday. PIC BY AHMAD A. TALIB

THAT the World Health Organisation has declared its spread as a global emergency should make everyone take serious notice of the novel coronavirus. It’s lethal and has the potential to be a weapon of mass destruction.

On Friday, the Malaysian Red Crescent Society (MRCS) took further steps to prepare its paramedics and volunteers should they be called upon to help manage this menace.

Several board members joined staff and volunteers for the practical training conducted by staff of Selayang Hospital.

The training was led by Datuk Dr Mohamed Alwi Abdul Rahman and matron Nora binti Misran. It focused on preparing ambulance staff and volunteers should they be required to assist hospitals in caring for those affected. Almost 60 MRC staff and volunteers attended.

Dr Alwi and his team gave several tips for us to follow, insisting that prevention is always better than cure. There were many lessons from Friday’s half–day intensive session, but I reckon the following are the most important.

Dr Alwi said: “Please don’t take this lightly — that’s my first advice. Make sure you pay close attention to your personal hygiene — wash hands frequently. Many of us are careless. It has now been proven that the virus can spread by human contact besides being airborne.

“So to be safe, wash hands using a hand sanitiser. You can buy a small bottle and carry it around. Don’t take any chances, please. If you can, for the time being, avoid mass gatherings. I must stress — if you can. If you have to, then take precautions.

“Wear a mask, please! Wear it properly. Follow the instructions carefully. Doctors, nurses and everyone involved in managing the virus must ensure their own safety first before caring for others.

“If I were you, I’d even reconsider travelling unless it is essential. You decide after studying all the pros and cons. If you want, you can discuss with your family doctor, who can advise you.

“And please be alert to fake news. It can cause panic.

“Verify the messages you receive before sharing them with others. Heed the information provided by the Health Ministry.

“One final word — you can protect yourself if you put your mind to it. The coronavirus is a serious threat. It’s real. Protect yourself.

“If you are asked to help out at hospitals, make sure you are competent and knowledgeable.”

MRC deputy chairman Datuk Wira Dr Hj Bahari bin Datuk Abu Mansor gave his pointers too: “We have to be vigilant always. If we are called upon to help out in hospitals or elsewhere, we must be ready at a short notice.”

By Ahmad A Talib.

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Need to talk about mental health

Sunday, February 2nd, 2020

In 2015, I was living with a Malaysian Chinese flatmate in the United Kingdom. Smiling. Greetings. Smart-causal outfits. Everything from her seemed fair.

I took several weeks co-living in the accommodation did I realise some abnormalities from her. She would easily get outrageous, emotional and sometimes very hyper.  All these “abnormalities” were, at first, covered by her 10 A*s and 4 A*s scoresheets in Malaysia’s IGCSE and A-levels respectively, alongside her good-looking figure – a promising young lady, as many might conclude.

Close to the Christmas break in the same year, I was having a private conversation with her in a flatmate gathering. We touched on and jumped between a range of topics, academically, socially, culturally and otherwise. Somehow we both declared our mental health records, where she had been suffering from bipolar disorder for years due to unmanageable stresses.

Mental health is a significant topic within and beyond Malaysian contexts. For example, data taken from the 2017 National Health and Morbidity Survey revealed that 29pc of Malaysians suffered from depression and anxiety disorders, a rise from 12pc in 2011.

To present, Malaysians facing mental health problems might plausibly remain in the closet in household, social or professional settings in order to avoid any taboo and stigma.

However, as a chronic social anxiety disordered patient, I understand very well how holding unstable and negative emotions back – without sharing any thoughts and feelings to trusted individuals or beloved – would significantly worsen the mental wellbeing.

Same as my former Malaysian Chinese flatmate, very often do I feel the obligations to live up to parental, teachers and supervisors’ expectations, ostensibly shaping our personal image as positive, able and promising as possible.

For over a decade, I hid my stressors and concerns, in addition to feeling guilty whenever I was judged and denounced by others, close or not. Mental illness is expected to be the second biggest health problem in Malaysia after heart diseases by the end of this year. Nearly 30pc of adults, aged 16 or above, face some degrees of mental health problems.

I remember I was having a conversation on mental health with an academic from Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and  Neuroscience (IoPPN), King’s College London (KCL) not long time ago.

As the academic argued, which I agreed to a large extent, a categorisation between mentally-able and disabled populations is unnecessary to a certain extent.

This is because we mostly, if not all, face mental health issues at some points in life.   For those who suffer from acute mental illnesses, they might feel life particularly hard, inconvenient and frustrating.

That being said, these mentally impaired cohorts have disabilities but are not necessarily disabled.

In a public health seminar held at Harvard Extension School in mid-2018, my coursemates and I wrapped up a discussion that each person living in a society must feel limitations – where there is always a gap between your ideal self and your actual self.

Being subject to limitations, mentally or otherwise, is very common.  And no one should have a right to judge and criticise those mentally impaired just because their limitations fall into mental contexts but not otherwise.

According to the Public Attitude towards Mental Health survey, 62.3pc of mentally ill Malaysians fail to disclose their conditions to others and just over 50pc believed Malaysians with such disorders are dangerous and violent.

While having mental health discussions with others in a public setting can cause stigmatisation, Malaysians can find alternative communication means to share their mental issues.

In recent years, a Facebook group known as Subtle Asian Mental Health, designated for worldwide Asian populations, has given an opportunity for many Asian individuals to share their mental struggles and concerns.

Many Asian Facebook users would leave positive and constructive comments and recommend some coping tactics to help others better manage their mental conditions.

When more Malaysians utilise social media platforms to conduct a mental health conversation, very often can they receive an opportunity to release, part of, their stresses and obtain sympathy from individuals facing similar problems.

In the long-term, when sharing mental health thoughts on social media becomes increasingly trending in Malaysia, more people are able to build the awareness and understanding of mental disorders.

Mental illnesses do not, and should not, refer to ‘gila’ (insanity) or ‘sakit jiwa’ (illness of the soul).  These are common issues faced by a lot of individuals.

By building awareness of the popularity of mental disorders, Malaysian populations can better understand that it is totally okay not to be okay.  Like many Malaysians, I have a disability, but I am not disabled.

By: Jason Hung

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US declares public health emergency after 7th coronavirus case detecte

Saturday, February 1st, 2020

Joel Szabat, Assistant Secretary for Aviation and International Affairs at the Department of Transportation, speaks during a briefing with members of the president’s Coronavirus Task Force in Washington, DC, on January 31, 2020. – The US on January 31 issued a rare federal quarantine order of 14 days for 195 Americans who were evacuated from the Chinese city at the center of a deadly global virus epidemic. (Photo by ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS / AFP)

WASHINGTON: The Trump administration, while insisting the risk to Americans from the novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) is low, nevertheless declared a public health emergency on Friday and announced the extraordinary step of barring entry to the United States of foreign nationals who have recently visited China.

In addition, US citizens who have traveled within the past two weeks to China’s Hubei Province – epicentre of the coronavirus epidemic – will be subject to a mandatory quarantine of 14 days, the incubation period of the virus, officials said.

Americans who visited other parts of mainland China will undergo special health screening upon their return, followed by up to 14 days of “monitored self-quarantine,” under the temporary restrictions.

The emergency measures were unveiled by US Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar at a White House briefing, shortly before the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and local health authorities announced a seventh US coronavirus case had been confirmed in Northern California.

The latest US patient was identified only as a man in Santa Clara County, south of San Francisco, who became ill after traveling to China and has “self-isolated” at home, Sara Cody, director of public health for the county, told reporters.

She said the CDC was seeking to determine whether the man was infectious while flying home.

The US entry ban on foreign travellers to China and the quarantine for Americans returning from Hubei go into effect on Sunday at 5pm EST (2200 GMT), Azar said.

At the same time all commercial flights from China would be restricted to international US airports in one of seven cities – New York, Chicago, Atlanta, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle and Honolulu.

CDC Director Robert Redfield told reporters the US government acted after the World Health Organisation declared a global health emergency on Thursday over the spread of the respiratory disease.

NEW YORK – JANUARY 31: At the terminal that serves planes bound for China, people wear medical masks at John F. Kennedy Airport (JFK) out of concern over the Coronavirus on January 31, 2020 in New York City. The virus, which has so far killed over 200 people and infected an estimated 9,900 people, is believed to have started in the Chinese city of Wuhan. Spencer Platt/Getty Images/AFP

“I want to emphasise that this is a serious health situation in China, but I want to emphasise that the risk to the American public is currently low,” Redfield said. “Our goal is to do all we can do to keep it that way.”

The US State Department warned Americans on Thursday not to travel to China because of the epidemic.

The ban on US entry of foreign nationals who have travelled to China during the past 14 days would exempt immediate family of US citizens and permanent US residents, Azar said. It was not immediately clear how long the ban would be in effect.

The flu-like coronavirus, which is believed to have originated in a seafood and animal market in Wuhan, the provincial capital of Hubei, and was first identified earlier this month, has resulted in 259 deaths in China.

More than 11,700 people have been infected in China, and more than 130 cases reported in at least 25 other countries and regions, with Russia, Britain, Sweden and Italy all reporting their first cases on Thursday or Friday.

None of the US cases has been fatal, and all but one of the patients in the United States was believed to have contracted the disease while they were traveling in the Wuhan area of China.

The first quarantines of US citizens potentially exposed to coronavirus in China began hours before the White House announcement.

Nearly 200 Americans evacuated earlier this week from Wuhan and voluntarily confined to a California military air base for 72 hours of health screenings were placed under a mandatory 14-day quarantine on Friday. It marked the CDC’s first quarantine order in 50 years.

The State Department said on Friday it was working with Chinese agencies to arrange additional flights of Americans out of Wuhan. Washington also plans to evacuate non-essential government employees and family members from the US Embassy in Beijing and consulates in Chengdu, Guangzhou, Shanghai and Shenyang due to the outbreak, a State Department official said on Thursday

The two-week quarantine of the 195 Americans at March Air Reserve Base, near Los Angeles, runs from the time the evacuees left China on Tuesday.

The original plan was to release the passengers after 72 hours of evaluation and tests, absent any indication of illness, and permit them to take public transportation home. Local health authorities would then continue monitoring the evacuees through the remainder of the incubation period.

CDC officials said then that such a plan posed little or no risk of spreading the virus because individuals incubating the infection before symptoms appear are generally not contagious.

But Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunisation and Respiratory Diseases, told reporters on Friday that experts’ understanding of the virus was still evolving.

She cited emerging evidence the virus can be spread by someone who is infected but not yet showing signs of being ill, such as fever, cough and other respiratory symptoms.

The CDC also pointed to a limitation of its screening test for the virus – a negative result is merely a “point-in-time” snapshot that cannot conclusively rule out the risk of a person developing the disease during the 14-day incubation period.

The blanket quarantine at March air base was instituted after one passenger sought to leave the base without permission on Wednesday night, and was immediately slapped with an individual quarantine order by local health officials.

As of Thursday, none of the group at the base had exhibited signs of the disease, local health officials said. -


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Coronavirus: Sabah suspends all incoming flights from China

Thursday, January 30th, 2020

KOTA KINABALU: Sabah is temporarily suspending all scheduled and chartered flights from China with immediate effect, says Deputy Chief Minister Datuk Christine Liew.

She said the decision was made during Wednesday’s (Jan 29) state cabinet meeting in the interest of the people’s welfare.

“This is only a temporary suspension and business operations are expected to resume once the situation returns to normal,” she said in a statement on Thursday (Jan 30).

Liew said although the suspension would have repercussions on Sabah’s tourism industry, the government was placing the health and welfare of Sabahans first.

“We want to avoid the risk of exposing our people to any possible carriers of the 2019-nCoV (coronavirus) infection,” she said adding this travel ban was a very difficult decision to make.

“This might not be well-received by tourism players but we cannot jeopardise the well-being of the people, given the uncertainty of how the coronavirus epidemic is developing,” said Liew, who is also the state Tourism, Culture and Environment minister.

Liew said the state secretary’s office would inform all airlines operating China-KK routes of the decision.

“This means that all flights from China will be halted, and there will be no entry for all travellers from the various Chinese cities to Kota Kinabalu during the suspension period,” she said.

She also noted that the Chinese government had already banned its citizens in Wuhan, Xi’an, Beijing, Tianjin and Guangzhou from travelling abroad.

Meanwhile, Liew assured the public that the state government was closely monitoring the situation.

“The government is constantly being updated by the State Health Department,” she said.

She said while there are no identified cases yet in Sabah, everyone had to be alert and practise good personal hygiene habits and keep themselves abreast of correct information from reliable sources.

“Please refrain from spreading fake or unverified news,” Liew advised.


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3 coronavirus cases in Malaysia include 2-year-old boy

Saturday, January 25th, 2020
Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad speaking to the media on the coronavirus outbreak during a press conference in Putrajaya. On his right is Health director-general Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah.
PUTRAJAYA: Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad told a news conference here today that three confirmed cases of Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV) have been detected in the country.

The three are Chinese citizens who were among eight quarantined at a Johor Baru hotel over the past few days.

The individuals are relatives of a 66-year-old coronavirus patient from Wuhan who is currently being treated in Singapore.

They comprise the man’s 65-year-old wife and their two grandsons, aged 2 and 11.

Malaysian Health Ministry staff using a thermal scanner to scan passengers arriving at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport on Jan 21. -NSTP/Ahmad Irham Mohd Noor.

This morning, the trio was moved to the Sungai Buloh Hospital in Kuala Lumpur, where they have been placed in isolation and are being closely monitored.

They are reportedly in stable condition.

The 36-year-old mother of the two kids, though having tested negative for the coronavirus, was also admitted to keep her children company.

The family was part of a group of 10 Chinese nationals from Wuhan who had flown from Guangzhou to Singapore on Jan 20, before entering Malaysia.

Health officers screen arriving passengers from China with thermal scanners at Changi International airport in Singapore on January 22 as authorities increased measure against coronavirus. -AFP

While in Singapore, the 66-year-old man and his son (the father of the two boys) began presenting with symptoms of the virus and were admitted to hospital.

On Jan 22, Singapore health authorities announced that the duo had tested positive for 2019-nCoV.

The remaining members of the group, which includes a family of four who are close friends of the first family, tested negative for the virus.

By New Straits Times.

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Preventing a deadly outbreak

Saturday, January 25th, 2020

“WORLD War Flu”, read the screaming headline in UK’s The Sun newspaper yesterday. Notorious for sensationalising stories, The Sun may have just got it right this time though as the planet could be facing a pandemic of global proportions at the start of a new decade.

The novel coronavirus, a mysterious new strain first detected in Wuhan, China, has infected 600 plus people and killed 17.

The death toll continues to rise with the virus detected in 25 cities in China.

Other countries which have detected the highly contagious virus include Taiwan, Japan, Thailand, South Korea and lately the United States and Macau.

The stringent checks via thermal scans at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) as well as other airports around the country, is an indication that Malaysia is scrambling to prevent an outbreak of this contagious disease.

Coronaviruses are named for the spikes that protrude from their membranes, which resemble the sun’s corona.

Our neighbour Singapore is investigating three people that have been hospitalised and quarantined.

They were recently in China and are exhibiting symptoms associated with the novel coronavirus.

Symptoms of infection include a high fever, difficulty in breathing and lung lesions.

Milder cases may resemble the flu or a bad cold, making detection very difficult.

The incubation period – the time from exposure to the onset of symptoms – is believed to be about two weeks.

The novel coronavirus can infect both animals and humans and in Wuhan, initial investigations revealed that the first cases were linked to workers at a market that sold live fish, animals and birds.

But Chinese scientists now believe that the virus is capable of spreading from person to person, increasing fears of a worldwide epidemic.

Thankfully, we have not detected any cases in Malaysia yet. Health authorities say some 300,000 passengers have already been screened at KLIA .

“Some have recorded high body temperature readings but none were linked to the virus,” said deputy health minister Dr Lee Boon Chye.

Even so, Dr Lee urged individuals who have been to China within the last 14 days and are having fever, cold or pneumonia to visit the nearest healthcare centre, where health officials have been instructed to be on high alert and take appropriate action to address the situation.

The Ministry of Health has taken steps to improve screening at all entry points to the country but our porous borders are a cause for concern.

As our neighbouring countries (Thailand has confirmed four cases) are affected, the risk of this strain “jumping borders” increases daily.

I doubt the MOH has the manpower to monitor every airport, air, land and sea entry point.

This needs a concerted effort by the Home Affairs Ministry (via the Immigration Department), the Civil Aviation Authority (CAAM) and even the army if necessary.

More importantly, time is of the essence. As more cases around the world are announced daily, Malaysian authorities should step up efforts to prevent the novel coronavirus from being transmitted here.

As it is, health authorities are already swamped with dealing with cases of dengue (all-time high), the re-emergence of polio and tuberculosis, H1N1 in Sabah and the spike of influenza incidences.

One has to ask why the sudden deluge of infectious, viral diseases in Malaysia?

Access to cheap and affordable air travel could be one reason as the rise of budget airlines has enabled more people in Malaysia and the region to travel easily.

This could be the reason we are seeing diseases from the 70s and 80s like TB, polio and typhoid making a comeback.

These disease are prevalent in poorer countries and foreign workers who arrive in Malaysia without proper health screenings could be carriers.

Health screenings at our borders must be made compulsory now. We have to be vigilant because the novel coronavirus should not be taken lightly.

Scientists have compared it to SARS that killed nearly 800 people across mainland China and Hong Kong between 2002 and 2003.

China is already in a public health crisis amid fears that the strain may mutate and further spread. It has now effectively shut down the epicentre of the virus.

Wuhan is in lockdown mode. All transportation to and from the city have been suspended. And no one from this city of 11 million will be allowed to leave.

The Chinese authorities said that the measures in Wuhan were needed to “effectively cut off the transmission of the virus, resolutely curb the spread of the epidemic, and ensure the safety and health of the people”.

Sale of live poultry has been banned and the mayor has cancelled public activities and gatherings during the Chinese New Year holiday.

The lunar festivities are the biggest concern because hundreds of millions of Chinese will criss-cross the country, exacerbating the crisis. The public have been advised to avoid densely populated areas.

And as the infection spreads, the World Health Organisation (WHO) stopped just short of declaring the Wuhan outbreak as a public health emergency.

Calling it “an evolving and complex situation”, it’s director-general said an expert committee would convene to discuss more evidence from its teams on the ground.

But some other countries have not waited for WHO’s findings to act now.

North Korea has banned all tourists into the country.

With Malaysia actively promoting VM2020, this would be an unthinkable step for us to take. The travel and economic backlash would cost us potentially billions.

But certain steps must be taken immediately. Screening at our airports for tourists from Wuhan may be inadequate.

Flights to and from the Chinese city should be suspended, at least until we can be sure the coronavirus outbreak is contained.

By Brian Martin.

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