WHO counsels Malaysia to play long game and go for targeted, localised measures against Covid-19

Police personnel check on mall-goers at Pavilion, Kuala Lumpur as the conditional movement control order kicked on October 14, 2020. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa
Police personnel check on mall-goers at Pavilion, Kuala Lumpur as the conditional movement control order kicked on October 14, 2020. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa

KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 15 — Malaysia must build on its success in dealing with Covid-19 by adopting a long-term approach, including being prepared to respond to any new clusters with targeted, localised measures, said the World Health Organisation (WHO).

As the pandemic has demonstrated how interlinked health and the economy are, using a targeted response approach combined with individual behavioural interventions can help to minimise economic disruption while keeping Covid-19 under control.

“Malaysia has strong capacity in outbreak preparedness and response, as well as the infrastructure and a well-trained workforce to provide high-quality health care. These have helped establish a stable foundation for the outbreak response to Covid-19 so far,” said WHO’s Representative Office for Malaysia, Brunei Darussalam and Singapore in an opinion piece.

It noted that in the years prior to the pandemic, the government and the health authorities took great steps to bolster Malaysia’s health security and multisectoral response capacity for health emergencies and disaster preparedness.

These included preparing for and participation in a Joint External Evaluation of the International Health Regulations core capacities with WHO in late 2019 to help identify the most critical gaps within human and animal health systems and the containment of environmental hazards, which played a crucial role in Malaysia’s initial response to the pandemic.

“In February 2020, during the early stages of the outbreak, Malaysia invested in increasing access to quality testing, the number of critical care beds and available ventilators. Health services were swiftly enhanced to meet both anticipated and emerging demands as the government operationalised the Crisis Preparedness and Response Centre at the national and state levels, and mobilised for recruitment and redistribution of health-care personnel according to high workload areas.

“It also took immediate steps to curtail transmission of the virus, including the implementation of the movement control order and its various phases and iterations, which succeeded in helping reduce the number of Covid-19 cases by half over the month of April. Following key WHO recommendations to ‘test, treat and track’ the population for the virus, Malaysia enforced the ‘Search, Test, Isolate, Treat and Quarantine’ strategy to uncover cases in the community,” it said.

Stringent measures were also taken regarding the quarantine and isolation of confirmed and suspected cases, and to communicate with the public proactively as the government was credited with going to great lengths to ensure a comprehensive approach to risk communication and community engagement and working to establish trust with the population.

This was done from the onset by promoting trusted sources of information to ensure the public had access to timely and accurate information on the latest Covid-19 developments and to offset the risk of an infodemic, as well as focusing on mass media campaigns and media monitoring.

“The Malaysian government leveraged technology, and social media platforms and mobile applications became a powerful channel for outreach when paired with creative content and strategic messaging. To reach and appeal to the culturally diverse population of the country, it used as many channels of communication as possible to reach the greatest number of people.

“All of these conditions and actions paved the way for a decisive and coordinated initial national emergency response, with the full support of WHO and partners for a whole-of-government and whole-of-society approach,” it said.

Although Malaysia’s response when Covid-19 cases began to emerge in the country is praiseworthy, the office said national efforts should still continue to encourage people to maintain their recommended precautionary practices as ongoing vigilance and prevention are the only ways to stop virus transmission until a safe and effective vaccine is available.

“These measures have been successful at containing and limiting transmissions so far but the country is seeing another surge in cases. As cases begin to rise again and the situation continues to evolve, the government is considering the reintroduction of public health measures, such as restriction of movement and travel, to prevent further transmission and potentially exceeding the capacity of the health system.

“Malaysia should continue to reinforce surveillance systems to detect the presence and circulation of Covid-19, as well as other infectious diseases, such as poliovirus and influenza. Health facilities have implemented strong infection, prevention and control measures and non-pharmaceutical interventions, and the Health Ministry has begun mobilizing staff to reinforce front-line health workers for possible future resurgences,” it said.

Emphasis should also be put on promoting the role of youth in protecting others and reducing transmission, as well as the continued caution and adherence to preventive measures by the entire population, no matter the occupation or age.

This is especially important with societies reopening, schools resuming and people going back to work and travelling, coupled with caution fatigue, cases are rising among young people, resulting in a higher risk of transmission and spread among their age group and onward to family members and higher-risk, vulnerable populations.

“WHO and its partners will continue their work on developing safe and effective Covid-19 treatments and vaccines, as well as coordinating the equal distribution and deployment of these options worldwide once available.

“Moving forward in this response, it is critical that everyone from stakeholders and decision-makers to the general public continue doing their part in a collective and unified manner. This is the key to a successful and sustainable national response to Covid-19, as no one is safe until everyone is safe,” said the office.

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