UM epidemiologist backs MCO 2.0 but says at least six weeks, not two, to curb Covid-19

People wearing face masks observe social distancing while queuing at a bus stop in Kuala Lumpur December 18, 2020. — Picture by Firdaus Latif
People wearing face masks observe social distancing while queuing at a bus stop in Kuala Lumpur December 18, 2020. — Picture by Firdaus Latif

KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 12 — The reimplementation of the movement control order (MCO) for 14 days is not enough to reduce the current spread of Covid-19 in Malaysia, according to Professor Datuk Dr Awang Bulgiba Awang Mahmud, an epidemiologist from the University of Malaya.

He said the number of sporadic cases or infections in the community this time around is much higher than the first MCO last March, and suggested the MCO length should be between six and 12 weeks to effectively reduce the number of cases.

"The implementation of the MCO is necessary; but two weeks is insufficient as the incubation period of the virus is between 10 to 14 days.

“That means that cases detected today may have become infected 14 days ago. If we want the MCO to be effective, it should be at least six to 12 weeks long,” he told Berita Harian.

He said that two weeks were also insufficient as the virus is now spreading widely among Malaysia’s large foreign worker community as well, compared to last year.

According to Dr Awang Bulgiba, the rate of positive cases among Malaysians undergoing Covid-19 tests has now reached 8 per cent, above the World Health Organisation’s recommended 5 per cent rate.

"During the first MCO, the rate was 1 to 2 per cent alone, meaning only one or two individuals were found positive out of 100 were screened, compared to eight people now.

“This implies that the community spread is much higher than anticipated. The number of people testing positive is now being capped by the number of tests being conducted — meaning the more tests we do, the higher the number of positive cases we detect,” he said.

Yesterday, Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin announced a return to MCO for five states and three federal territories due to the spike in Covid-19 cases that have pushed the country’s health system to near “breaking point”.

The renewed MCO will begin at 12.01am tomorrow in Kuala Lumpur, Putrajaya, Labuan, Penang, Johor, Melaka, Selangor and Sabah.

Pahang, Perak, Negri Sembilan, Kedah, Terengganu and Kelantan will remain under the conditional MCO while Perlis and Sarawak will return to the recovery phase of the MCO.

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