COVID-19 assessment centre to start operation soon

Tan Sri Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah

PUTRAJAYA – The COVID-19 assessment centre is expected to start operations next week to coordinate and integrate the public and private hospitals in managing the pandemic cases in the country.

Health director-general Tan Sri Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah said coming Saturday they will hold the third discussion with the private hospital to look into details and technical implementations for the centre.

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“We will discuss all existing issues and try to resolve them as well as coordinate the work process in roundtable discussions between the public and private sectors.

“So we hope that when we set up the COVID-19 assessment centre, some patient groups can be managed by the private sector,” he said at a press conference on the development of COVID-19 here today.

However, he said since the second wave of COVID-19 hit the country, the private sector had lend a hand to assist the government including mobilising some of their specialists and staff to work at the Sungai Buloh Hospital.

Dr Noor Hisham said the coordination was not only in terms of COVID-19 patient management but were also looking into haemodialysis centres because most of these cases depended on the private health sector.

“For example in Tawau, Sabah, the staff at a private haemodialysis centre was infected and quarantined but the services needed to be continued because otherwise, patients will not have access for haemodialysis. So we from the public sector send our staff to operate the services there,” he said.

Increased laboratory capacity

He said the Health Ministry (MOH) was expected to increase the capacity of COVID-19 laboratories that can conduct the Reverse Transcription Polymerase Chain Reaction (RT-PCR) tests, to between 100,000 to 150,000 tests per day.

“So far, we have 68 laboratories that carry out 70,000 RT-PCR tests per day and the capacity of these laboratories will be enhanced. We will also increase COVID-19 screening by using the Antigen Rapid Test Kit (RTK-Ag),” he said.

Dr Noor Hisham also said that cooperation from the Malaysian Armed Forces, Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation (MOSTI), private universities and private laboratories was needed to increase laboratory capacity.

“We encourage the private sector to come forward and help increase laboratory capacity… we need to maximise its use,” he said.

Commenting on the rising cases and clusters related to funerals, Dr Noor Hisham said MOH has suggested that such gatherings be limited to a maximum of 20 people to avoid potential infection.

“We understand that funerals are a sensitive issue, due to cultural and emotional reasons. But we hope at this point of time, those involved will comply with the SOP (standard operating procedure) set and get a police permit first,” he said.

Vaccine critical

An expert in respiratory medicine in a related development meanwhile has said that the COVID-19 vaccine is pivotal in reducing the morbidity and death rates stemming from the ongoing pandemic, especially the elderly and those who have higher risks.

Consultant in Internal and Respiratory Medicine, The Lung Centre of Pantai Hospital Kuala Lumpur, Dr Helmy Haja Mydin said this includes frontliners, who are at higher risk on a regular basis as a consequence of facing the dangers brought about by the virus.

“The vaccine has been proven to be safe for general use and is particularly important to protect those with underlying chronic diseases. It also adds a layer of protection for services that are essential to keep the country going,” he told Bernama.

Although the majority of patients with COVID-19 cope well, Dr Helmy said there is a significant number who are at risk of severe complications and poor outcomes, including those who are elderly (>50 years of age) or those with comorbidities such as diabetes, hypertension, heart failure, kidney failure and obesity.

“It is worth noting that many of us in Malaysia have these comorbidities. For example, Malaysia has one of the highest rates of diabetes in Asia – one in five adults or approximately 3.9 million people over the age of 18 in Malaysia has this disease.

“In severe cases of COVID-19, the lungs can be damaged. In worst-case scenarios, multiple organs will start failing. For those who survive, some are left with long-term consequences such as lung fibrosis and lethargy,” he said.

Dr Helmy said this is why a vaccine is very important alongside public health measures such as wearing a face mask and practising physical distancing, where all these work together to reduce the risk of the COVID-19 virus affecting both as individuals, and also in terms of overwhelming healthcare facilities.

Creation of herd immunity

While cautioning that there will be some for whom the vaccine would not be suitable, such as children and pregnant women, Dr Helmy said they can still be protected by vaccinating the people around them and creating herd immunity.

He pointed out that once the spread of the virus is halted, even those who have not been vaccinated would be protected due to a drop in exposure risk, where this will also allow greater freedom of movement, and directly impact our economic recovery ability.

On the side effects of the vaccine, Dr Helmy explains it’s usually a mild fever as well as discomfort on the area where the injection is administered, and in rare circumstances, people may also develop allergic reactions.

“The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported that allergic reactions to the Pfizer vaccine occur in approximately 11 people for every one million vaccinations. Compare this with the death rate of COVID-19 in Malaysia: four in every 1,000 infections, and that does not include those who survive but are left with organ failure,” he said.

He concurred that the medical fraternity has always had a system to look into potential effects of medication and in many situations, there are other factors that can lead to a bad outcome such as an underlying medical illness.

“These are not always shared with the public, which makes it difficult to contextualise news reports. A headline may link a death to a vaccine, but a follow-up story a few days later that is buried in the newspaper may reveal that the patient actually died from an underlying cancer.

“It is very important to consume news in a critical fashion, and to obtain information from reputable resources,” he said.

On another note, he said it is important to remember that any vaccine given to the people will undergo strict testing by the Ministry of Health to ensure its safety.

“We are neither very fast or very slow in procuring the vaccines – countries like South Korea and Japan will be immunising their population around the same time.

“This gives the government ample time to prepare for the logistical challenges of vaccinating the population. Just as importantly, it gives us time to observe the challenges other countries are facing and learn from their experiences,” he said.

Minister recovers

After undergoing 12 days of treatment for COVID-19, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department (Economy) Datuk Seri Mustapa Mohamed has finally recovered and discharged from hospital.

Mustapa, in a Facebook posting today, said he was discharged from the Raja Perempuan Zainab II Hospital (HRPZ II) here at 4.30 pm.

“Thank you very much to all staff of the Health Ministry especially at HRPZ II, family and friends from all over the country who have offered words of encouragement, well-wishes and prayers,” he said.

Sharing his experience, the Jeli Member of Parliament said the most worrying time was when he was at the Intensive Care Unit for three days for some breathing problems and fatigue.

However, he said, with close supervision from the doctors and nurses, and putting full faith in Allah, his conditions began to improve.

Mustapa said he currently needs more rest, less work and is unable to meet many people.

He advised the people to always wear face masks, hand sanitisers and practise physical distancing until the pandemic is really over.

“During this pandemic, we must protect the public’s interest beyond our personal interest. We must take this threat seriously.

“Be afraid of COVID-19 because we have yet to win the war. May Allah protect our country, our leaders and the people from COVID-19,” he said.