Health Ministry: All Chinese nationals entering Malaysia via Singapore-Johor causeway screened for coronavirus

Public health specialist (control of disease) Dr Azmi Abdul Rahim speaks during a media briefing on 2019-nCov in Putrajaya January 30, 2020. — Picture by Shafwan Zaidon
Public health specialist (control of disease) Dr Azmi Abdul Rahim speaks during a media briefing on 2019-nCov in Putrajaya January 30, 2020. — Picture by Shafwan Zaidon

PUTRAJAYA, Jan 30 — The Health Ministry today gave assurance that all Chinese nationals entering the country via the Singapore-Johor causeway are being screened on a daily basis to address the spread of the novel coronavirus.  

In a media briefing today, Dr Azmi Abdul Rahim, a public healthcare specialist working in the Centre for Disease Control for the Health Ministry said: “In the causeway, we have approximately 200,000 visitors every day. Though we are conducting screenings with our thermal scanners, they are limited. 

“These thermal scanners are thus used to focus on Chinese nationals coming into Malaysia as we know they are the high-risk ones. 

“If possible we’d like to screen everyone but for now we can’t. However do bear in mind all the cases we found so far are Chinese nationals,” he added. 

Dr Azmi was commenting on a report in Astro Awani yesterday where several taxi drivers had voiced concerns over the lax screening process in Malaysia compared to Singapore.

They urged Malaysian officials to follow Singapore’s suit in barring anyone suspected with even the slightest fever from entering Johor. 

Dr Azmi said he is aware of public concerns as to the lack of screening for Malaysians but allayed fears by stating medical personnel on the ground are aware of the situation and are taking precautions. 

Meanwhile, Dr Benedict Sim, a specialist in infectious diseases working at Sungai Buloh Hospital (SBH), said they have yet to determine the source of the coronavirus hence a vaccine is not available at the moment. 

Sim was asked if the vaccine for the Nipah virus, which hit Malaysia in 1999, could be used to cure coronavirus which is what’s being spoken about a lot on social media. 

Sim said the Nipah virus is spread from animals to humans so once the pigs carrying the virus were culled the outbreak was over. 

“By destroying the source we were able to stop Nipah outbreak. For coronavirus we do not know the source, everything is just a hypothesis. 

“For now the majority (of findings) show coronavirus is spread from human to human and not animal to human. That’s why it’s spreading and following international travellers,” Dr Sim explained. 

As for the best protective equipment, Dr Sim said since there are no local transmissions from Malaysian to Malaysian they are not recommending for the people to use masks every day.

Though this advice could change over time if the outbreak gets worse.

“The normal 3-ply mask doesn’t help against germs as it gets moist quickly and lacks a filter. For the general public, if masks are needed, the best mask to use is the Ply surgical masks. 

“At the moment we’re not suggesting the N95 mask as it’s unnecessary for this infection as it’s spread by droplet spread. Surgical masks are best for droplet spread compared to airborne spread,” Dr Sim explained. 

“To wear a surgical mask ideally it should be tested to fit and the person tested to see if they are using and removing the mask properly to avoid contamination.”

Sim said droplet spread is through a person’s spit, cough and phlegm and does not spread far. Only a person within one metre of the infected could potentially be infected. 

Airborne infections are for diseases like tuberculosis and measles. 

As for now, it has been determined that the novel coronavirus affects the same cells as the foot and mouth disease (SARS) virus.  

As of today there are 170 deaths from around 7,000 reported cases of coronavirus. Nearly 60 million people are under partial or full lockdowns in Chinese cities and 91 cases have been reported outside of China. 

Malaysia has eight positive cases all of whom are Chinese nationals. 

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