KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 12 — The World Health Organisation (WHO) has advised the Malaysian government to prepare itself for the possibility of a wider transmission of Covid-19 which has infected tens of thousands and has killed more than a thousand in China.

Its regional director for the Western Pacific, Dr Takeshi Kasai, said in a statement today that the latest information shows that the virus may be more transmissible than early data had suggested but noted that this does not mean it will start spreading easily in Malaysia or elsewhere.

“Responding to wider transmission would require shifting the focus of activities to protect the vulnerable and minimise the health and social impact. If we don’t prepare now, we will not be able to activate those plans when they are needed.

For example, in the event of wider community transmission, the Malaysia government would need to ensure the country’s health facilities can focus on treating the most vulnerable and severe cases.

“This may mean planning to switch away from medically isolating or quarantining everyone who is infected, to encouraging people with mild illness to stay at home to recover — so that health care facilities do not become overwhelmed.

“Steps must also be taken to ensure health facilities do not become places that amplify the virus’ spread, infecting staff and other patients,” said Dr Takeshi in reference to reports of infection clusters with no apparent link to China.

He explained that instead of testing all suspected cases and conducting contact tracing on everyone who has the virus, Putrajaya should apply limited testing to monitor geographical spread and trends and use the data to make inform decisions on public health response.

Furthermore, he said that the government must be ready to consider the possibility of temporarily closing down schools as well as postponing mass gatherings to reduce the virus’ ability to spread.

Dr Takeshi also advised the general public to look after their health and not to circulate rumours and misinformation online as it can be very harmful.

“Wash your hands — frequently, and thoroughly. If you are coughing or sneezing, cover your nose and mouth with a tissue or your elbow. Keep your distance — we recommend at least one metre — from people who are unwell.

“If you’re sick, stay home so you don’t risk infecting others — and seek medical care if you have trouble breathing,” he said.

Currently, the global organisation is studying the virus’ transmissibility and monitoring its severity.

China has seen a two per cent death toll out of all cases reported with a death rate of 0.4 per cent among those who have been infected outside of Hubei province.