Heed SOP to keep Covid-19 under control

This is a round-up of COVID-19 related matters in Malaysia and globally from Aug 15 up to 12.30 pm today. In Malaysia, case numbers have exceeded 9,000 and globally, the virus has infected more than 22 million people and caused nearly 800,000 deaths. More than 200 countries and territories are affected by the pandemic.

KUALA LUMPUR – The detection of a more virulent strain D614G and the emergence of a new cluster, Tawar, are the most alarming developments this week on the local COVID-19 front.

D614G can reportedly spread 10 times faster and proof of this mutation has been found in Kedah’s notorious Sivagangga PUI (persons under investigation) cluster cases.

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The cluster was first reported on July 28 and within nine days 43 cases were detected. As of Aug 11, the cluster had 45 cases.

Yesterday’s announcement on new COVID-19 cases provided some respite as no local transmissions were reported – the five new cases reported over the 24-hour period up to noon yesterday were all imported.

One of the imported cases was from Bangladesh while the remaining four, referred to as Alam cluster, were crew members of a ship in Bintulu, Sarawak, who had a history of travelling to Japan.

Malaysia’s total COVID-19 positive cases now stood at 9,240 and active cases 183.

Seven patients were discharged yesterday, bringing the total number of recoveries to 8,932 (96.7 percent of total cases). Seven patients are currently warded at the intensive care unit with four requiring respiratory aid. The death toll remains at 125 (1.37 percent of total cases).

Aggressive mutation

On Aug 16, Health director-general Tan Sri Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah announced that the Institute for Medical Research detected the new D614G strain through isolation and culture tests conducted on three cases from the Sivagangga cluster and one case from the Ulu Tiram cluster.

He said although swift action by the health authorities has kept the two clusters under control, the public must not let down their guard as it has been found that it is 10 times easier for D614G to infect other individuals, more so if it is transmitted by “super spreader” individuals.

“Following the detection of the D614G mutation, the community has to be extra careful,” Dr Noor Hisham said on his official Facebook page on Aug 16.

New clusters due to SOP violation

According to Dr Noor Hisham, non-compliance with the standard operating procedures (SOPs) set by the government to stem the transmission of COVID-19 was the main reason for the emergence of the Tawar and Sala clusters, both in Kedah.

The Tawar cluster has its origins in a family gathering that did not adhere to SOPs as the number of people present did not correspond with the size of the place where they had gathered, thus making it impossible for them to observe physical distancing.

The index case for the Tawar cluster, which was announced on Aug 13, was a Malaysian businessman who had attended a religious gathering.

As of Wednesday, this cluster reported 55 cases (44 in Kedah and 11 in Penang). In Kedah, 343 individuals who are close contacts are awaiting the results of their COVID-19 screening. In Penang, 14 people are awaiting test results.

As for the Sala cluster, the index case had a history of visiting a patient in a hospital together with several of his family members who were also tested positive for COVID-19.

As of Wednesday, this cluster had 11 cases while 157 close contacts are still awaiting test results.

WHO and global situation

World Health Organisation (WHO) director-general Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, speaking at his weekly COVID-19 media briefing in Geneva, Switzerland, on Tuesday said the response to the pandemic has to be collective even though leaders of nations wished to protect their own people first.

“This is not charity, we have learned the hard way that the fastest way to end this pandemic and to reopen economies is to start by protecting the highest risk populations everywhere, rather than the entire populations of just some countries.

“Sharing finite supplies strategically and globally is actually in each country’s national interest. No one is safe until everyone is safe,” he said.

According to Dr Tedros, no single country has access to research and development, manufacturing and the supply chain for all essential medicines and materials.

If nations can work together, they can ensure that all essential workers are protected and proven treatments like dexamethasone are available to those who need them.

“With PPE (personal protective equipment) and tests, a collaboration between the public and private sectors meant supply was increased in order to support fair and equitable use of scarce products. “As new diagnostics, medicines and vaccines come through the pipeline, it’s critical that countries don’t repeat the same mistakes. We need to prevent vaccine nationalism,” he said.

It is for this reason that WHO is working with governments and the private sector to both accelerate the science, through the ACT-Accelerator, and ensure that new innovations are available to everyone, everywhere starting with those at highest risk, he added.

Global Covid-19 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 this article stood at 22,860,184 (21,092,417 cases last Friday) and 797,105 deaths (757,738 last Friday). The total number of recoveries stood 15,515,681.

The United States continues to head the list of badly-hit nations with 5,746,272 cases ( 5,415,977 cases at this time last week) and 170,424 deaths (170,419 last week).

Brazil is on the second spot with 3,505,097 cases and 105,564 fatalities. India is on the third spot with 2,904,329 cases and 54,975 deaths. Russia is fourth with 942,106 cases and 16,099 deaths.

Another 24 countries have recorded cases exceeding 100,000, namely:

South Africa 599,940 cases (12,618 deaths), Peru 567,059 (27,034), Mexico 543,806 (59,106), Colombia 513,719 (16,183), Spain 404,229 (28,813), Chile 391,849 (10,671), Iran 352,558 (20,264), United Kingdom 322,280 (41,403), Argentina 320,884 (6,517), Saudi Arabia 303,973 (3,548), Pakistan 290,958 (6,209), Bangladesh 287,959 (3,822), Italy 256,118 (35,418), Turkey 254,520 (6,058), Germany 231,284 (9,324), Iraq 192,797 (6,208), Philippines 178,022 (2,883), Indonesia 147,211 (6,418), Canada 123,873 (9,054), Qatar 116,224 (193), Bolivia 106,065 (4,305), Equador 105,508 (6,146) and Kazakhstan 104,071 (1,415).

China, where the outbreak was first reported at end-December 2019, is now on the 34th spot with 84,917 cases while its death toll remains at 4,634.

In Southeast Asia, the Philippines and Indonesia have joined the countries with more than 100,000 cases. The Philippines now has 178,022 cases and 2,883 deaths, followed by Indonesia with 147,211 cases and 6,418 deaths.

Singapore has recorded 56,099 cases while its death tally remains at 27. Thailand has 3,389 cases and 58 deaths.

Vietnam’s COVID-19 cases have risen to 1,007 and deaths 25. Myanmar now has 399 cases while its death toll remains at six. Brunei’s tally remains at 141 cases and two deaths, and Laos 20 cases and no death.

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 can 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 (SARS) and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-COV).

A study of the virus’ genetic sequence suggested similarities to that 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 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.

— BERNAMA