Imported cases worrying, border controls tightened

This is a round-up of COVID-19 related matters in Malaysia and globally from Aug 29 up to 12.30 pm Sept 4. In Malaysia, case numbers have exceeded 9,000 and globally, the virus has infected more than 26 million people and caused over 800,000 deaths. More than 200 countries and territories are affected by the pandemic.

KUALA LUMPUR – This week’s happenings on the domestic COVID-19 front were dominated by three new fatalities over three consecutive days, imported cases and the emergence of new clusters.

To stem transmission of the virus, the government has taken several drastic measures such as extending the Recovery Movement Control Order period from Aug 31 to Dec 31.

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Beginning Sept 7, long-term pass holders from India, Indonesia and the Philippines will not be allowed into Malaysia due to a spike in Covid-19 cases in those countries.

Yesterday, the government announced that the travel entry ban effective Sept 7 will also include citizens from countries that have registered more than 150,000 COVID-19 cases. These nations include the United States, Brazil, France, United Kingdom, Spain, Italy, Saudi Arabia, Russia and Bangladesh.

As of now, 23 countries have recorded cases exceeding 150,000.

Senior Minister (Security Cluster) Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob said other countries deemed as high-risk will also be added to the no-entry list.

Earlier, Health director-general Tan Sri Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah had said that the Ministry of Health is ready to handle any spike in imported cases over the next four months during the onset of winter.

He said India, South Korea, Japan, Spain and France have seen an increase in COVID-19 cases after temperatures started to drop.

Malaysia, meanwhile, recorded three deaths this week, one each on Sunday (Aug 30), Monday and Tuesday. All three fatalities were reported in Kedah, with two of them from the Tawar cluster.

As for imported cases this week, relatively high figures were reported on Aug 29 (10 out of 11 new cases) and Aug 30 (15 out of 17 new cases).

New cases return to two digits

Over the 24-hour period up to noon yesterday, 14 new COVID-19 cases were reported, bringing the total number of cases to 9,374 and active cases to 163.

Out of the 14 new cases, four were imported cases involving two Malaysians and two non-citizens.

The 10 local transmissions comprised six Malaysians – four were from Kedah (three from the Tawar cluster and one from the new Telaga cluster) and two from the new Benteng LD cluster in Sabah – and four non-citizens from the Benteng LD cluster.

Four patients are currently being treated in the intensive care unit, with three of them requiring respiratory aid.

No fatality was reported yesterday and the death toll remained at 128 (1.37 percent of total cases).

New clusters

The new clusters that emerged this week are MV Glen in Port Klang, Selangor and Telaga in Kedah that were reported on Aug 30; Bunga in Port Dickson, Negeri Sembilan on Aug 31; and Benteng LD in Sabah on Sept 1.

MV Glen has so far reported three cases, Telaga seven cases, Bunga six cases and Benteng LD 14 cases.

The Tawar cluster, currently the biggest active cluster in Malaysia, has recorded 75 cases as of Sept 1, believed to have been infected by the D614G strain.

The Sivagangga cluster in Kedah, which recorded 45 cases, is expected to end shortly as it has not reported any new case of late.

And, according to Dr Noor Hisham, the COVID-19 infectivity rate or R-naught (R0) value has now increased to 1.0 compared to 0.74 on Aug 26.

The R0 value indicates how contagious an infectious disease is in a community at the start of an outbreak. In Malaysia, the R0 value was at its highest on July 22 (1.37) and lowest on Aug 4 (0.58). Prior to the enforcement of the MCO on March 18, it stood at 3.55.

Dr Noor Hisham said an R0 value of less than 1, if maintained continuously, will help to break the chain of COVID-19 infections in Malaysia.

WHO and global situation

The World Health Organisation (WHO), meanwhile, has said that it supports efforts by pandemic-hit countries to ease movement restrictions and reopen their economies but “we want to see it done safely”, said its director-general Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

Speaking during his weekly COVID-19 media briefing in Geneva, Switzerland, on Monday, he said no country can pretend that the pandemic is over.

“The reality is that this coronavirus spreads easily, it can be fatal to people of all ages, and most people remain susceptible.

“If countries are serious about opening up, they must be serious about suppressing transmission and saving lives,” he said.

He outlined four essential things that all countries, communities and individuals must focus on to take control of the situation.

First, restrict large gatherings as COVID-19 spreads very efficiently among clusters of people. Many countries, he said, have seen explosive outbreaks linked to gatherings of people at stadiums, nightclubs and places of worship.

Second, reduce deaths by protecting vulnerable groups, including older people, those with underlying conditions and essential workers.

“Third, comply with the measures we know that work to protect ourselves and others – stay at least one metre away from others, clean your hands regularly, practise respiratory etiquette, and wear a mask. Avoid the ‘three Cs’: closed spaces, crowded places and close-contact settings.

“And fourth, governments must take tailored actions to find, isolate, test and care for cases, and trace and quarantine contacts. Widespread stay-at-home orders can be avoided if countries take temporary and geographically-targeted interventions,” 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 26,467,490 (24,650,487 cases at the same time last Friday) and 873,213 deaths (836,049 last Friday). The total number of recoveries stood at 18,661,504.

The United States continues to head the list of badly-hit nations with 6,335,244 cases (6,048,317 last Friday) and 191,058 deaths (184,803 last week).

Brazil is on the second spot with 4,046,150 cases and 124,729 fatalities. India is on the third spot with 3,933,124 cases and 68,569 deaths. Russia is fourth with 1,009,995 cases and 17,528 deaths.

Another 26 countries have recorded cases exceeding 100,000, namely:

Peru 670,145 cases (29,405 deaths), Colombia 641,574 (20,618), South Africa 633,015 (14,563), Mexico 616,894 (66,329), Spain 488,513 (29,234), Argentina 451,198 (9,361), Chile 416,501 (11,422), Iran 380,746 (21,926), United Kingdom 340,411 (41,527), Bangladesh 319,686 (4,383), Saudi Arabia 318,319 (3,982), France 300,181 (30,706), Pakistan 297,014 (6,328), Turkey 274,943 (6,511), Italy 272,912 (35,507), Germany 248,814 (9,399), Iraq 247,039 (7,275), Philippines 228,403 (3,688), Indonesia 184,268 (7,750), Canada 130,493 (9,141), Ukraine 128,228 (2,710), Israel 124,455 (985), Qatar 119,420 (201), Bolivia 118,781 (5,288), Equador 116,360 (6,648) and Kazakhstan 106,121 (1,588).

China, where the outbreak was first reported at end-December 2019, is now on the 38th spot with 85,120 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. Next is Singapore with 56,908 cases while its death tally remains at 27, followed by Thailand with 3,427 cases and 58 deaths.

Myanmar has overtaken Vietnam with 1,111 cases and six deaths. Vietnam has reported 1,046 cases and 35 deaths.

Cambodia has recorded 274 with no deaths reported. Brunei’s tally remains at 141 cases and two deaths while Laos has reported 22 cases with no fatalities.

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