Sudden spike in Covid-19 cases unsettling

This is a round-up of COVID-19 related matters in Malaysia and globally from Sept 5 up to 7.30 pm today. In Malaysia, case numbers have exceeded 9,500 and globally, the virus has infected more than 28 million people and caused over 900,000 deaths. More than 200 countries and territories are affected by the pandemic.

KUALA LUMPUR – The current COVID-19 infectivity rate has hit a critical level and today, a whopping 182 new cases were reported, the highest number recorded since the Recovery Movement Control Order was enforced in June.

Out of today’s cases, 181 were local infections and one imported.


The Ministry of Health (MOH) said in a statement today that 167 of the cases were from the Benteng cluster in Sabah and 14 from the Sungai and Telaga clusters in Kedah.

Yesterday, in reference to the recent spike in new cases, Health director-general Tan Sri Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah had said that the “burning embers have to be doused before it turns into a raging fire”.

He said if the situation becomes more critical, the MOH’s chances of “controlling the fire” will become slimmer. This will lead to a sharp spike in cases and fatalities, similar to what is happening in other countries.

On Tuesday (Sept 8), new cases swelled to 100. Over the weekend (Sept 5 and 6), only six cases were reported respectively. On Monday, the number rose to 62, Wednesday 24 and yesterday 45.

Dr Noor Hisham is also clearly worried about the current COVID-19 R-naught (R0) value which stood at 2.34 on Wednesday and fell to 1.78 yesterday.

An R0 greater than one means that the virus will likely keep spreading.

He had earlier explained that the emergence of new clusters has caused the R0 to rise. The R0 refers to the infectivity rate of a virus at the start of an outbreak within a community.

On Aug 26, the R0 stood at 0.74 but by Sept 8, it had climbed to 1.72. The steep increase is indicative of the high risk of transmissions in the community.

Before the enforcement of the Movement Control Order on March 18, the R0 value was 3.55. According to Dr Noor Hisham, an R0 of less than one for a continuous period will help to break the chain of COVID-19 infections in Malaysia.

Spike in active cases

With the 182 new cases reported over the 24-hour period up to noon today, the total number of COVID-19 cases in Malaysia now stood at 9,810 and active cases at 501.

Today’s local transmissions comprised 90 citizens and 91 non-citizens. Eleven cases were from the Sungai cluster and three from the Telaga cluster.

The remaining local cases (167) were from the Benteng LD cluster, with 91 of them involving non-citizens.

Today, 14 patients were discharged, bringing the total number of recoveries to 9,181 (93.6 percent of total cases).

Nine patients are currently being treated in the intensive care unit with five requiring respiratory aid. The death toll remained at 128 (1.30 percent of total cases).

Active clusters

As of today, there were three active clusters, namely Benteng LD (Lahad Datu and Tawau), Sungai (Kedah, Penang and Perlis) and Telaga (Kedah and Penang).

Benteng LD-Tawau cluster: 2,067 individuals have been screened, out of which 250 tested positive and 625 negative while 1,192 are still awaiting results.

Benteng LD (Lahad Datu) cluster: 770 have been screened out of which 87 tested positive, 291 negative and 392 still awaiting results.

Sungai cluster: 2,037 have been screened; 50 tested positive (11 new cases) and 1,408 negative; and 579 are still awaiting results.

In Penang itself, 122 individuals have been screened and all tested negative. In Perlis, out of the 11 screened, one tested positive and six negative while four are still waiting for their results.

Telaga cluster: a total of 4,766 individuals have been screened. In Kedah, out of the 4,718 screened, 16 tested positive and 4,610 negative while 92 are still waiting for their results. In Penang, all 48 individuals screened tested negative.

EMCO, border control

Following the hike in cases in the Sungai and Telaga clusters, the government has implemented the administrative Enhanced Movement Control Order (EMCO) in 28 mukim in Kota Setar, Kedah, starting at 12.01 am yesterday until Sept 25.

Senior Minister (Security Cluster) Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob said the Malaysia-Thai border at Bukit Kayu Hitam will also be closed until the EMCO ends.

Administrative EMCO has also been enforced at Tawau Prison from Sept 11 to 25.

Meanwhile, beginning Sept 7, the Malaysian government has imposed entry restrictions on 23 countries that have registered more than 150,000 COVID-19 cases.

The list of nations includes the United States, Brazil, India, Russia, Peru, Colombia, South Africa, Mexico, Spain, Argentina, Chile, Iran, United Kingdom, Bangladesh, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, France, Turkey, Italy, Germany, Iraq, Philippines and Indonesia.

The travel restrictions, however, do not apply to diplomats and their families, expatriates and skilled workers.

Between April 3 and Sept 9, a total of 119,268 travellers entered Malaysia. Out of this number, 995 tested positive for COVID-19 – 742 when they were screened upon arrival and 253 after they underwent the second screening on the 13th day of their quarantine.

WHO and global situation

COVID-19 is not the last of the pandemics the world will experience.

“History teaches us that outbreaks and pandemics are a fact of life. But when the next pandemic comes, the world must be ready – more ready than it was this time,” World Health Organisation director-general Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said during a media briefing in Geneva, Switzerland on Monday.

“COVID-19 is teaching all of us many lessons. One of them is that health is not a luxury item for those who can afford it, it’s a necessity and a human right.”

He urged nations to invest in public health infrastructure to ensure a healthier and safer future for its people. Many countries, he said, have done that.

Pointing to Thailand, he said the nation is reaping the benefits of 40 years of health system strengthening.

Dr Tedros also praised Italy’s efforts, saying that although it was one of the first countries to experience a large outbreak of COVID-19 outside China, its government took hard decisions based on the evidence and persisted with them to reduce transmission and save lives.

He also mentioned Uruguay which reported the least number of deaths due to COVID-19 in Latin America, thanks to its robust and resilient healthcare system.

According to Dr Tedros, other nations that have built up their health infrastructure over the years are Mongolia, Pakistan, Cambodia, Japan, New Zealand, South Korea, Rwanda, Senegal, Spain and Vietnam.

He said many of these countries have done well because they learned lessons from previous outbreaks of SARS, MERS, measles, polio, Ebola, flu and other diseases.

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 28,351,973 (26,486,344 cases at the same time last Friday) and 914,256 deaths (873,470 last Friday). The total number of recoveries stood at 20,357,351.

The United States continues to head the list of badly-hit nations with 6,588,181 cases (6,335,244 last Friday) and 196,331 deaths (191,058 last week).

India has overtaken Brazil to the second spot with 4,566,726 cases and 76,3366 deaths.

Brazil is third with 4,239,763 cases and 129,575 fatalities. Russia is fourth with 1,051,874 cases and 18,365 deaths.

Another 28 countries have recorded cases exceeding 100,000, namely:

Peru 710,067 cases (30,344 deaths), Colombia 694,664 (22,275), Mexico 652,354 (69,649), South Africa 644,438 (15,265), Spain 554,143 (29,699), Argentina 524,198 (10,907), Chile 428,669 (11,781), Iran 395,488 (22,798), United Kingdom 358,138 (41,608), France 353,944 (30,813), Bangladesh 332,970 (4,634 Saudi Arabia 323,720 (4,189), Pakistan 300,371 (6,370), Turkey 286,455 (6,895), Italy 283,180 (35,587), Iraq 278,418 (7,814), Germany 258,107 (9,419), Philippines 252,964 (4,108), Indonesia 210,940 (8,544), Ukraine 148,756 (3,023), Israel 146,542 (1,077), Canada 134,294 (9,163), Bolivia 124,205 (7,193), Qatar 121,052 (205), Equador 113,206 (10,749), Kazakhstan 106,661 (1,634), Republic of Dominica 101,716 (1,926) and Egypt 100,557 (5,590).

China, where the outbreak was first reported at end-December 2019, is now on the 39th spot with 85,153 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 57,316 cases while its death tally remains at 27, followed by Thailand with 3,461 cases and 58 deaths.

Myanmar has recorded 2,265 cases and 14 deaths, followed by Vietnam with 1,059 cases and 35 deaths.

Cambodia’s cases remain at 274 with no deaths reported. Brunei’s tally remains at 141 cases and two deaths and Laos’ at 22 and zero fatality.

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.