Mass restrictions drastic but necessary, say experts

Malaysian families being allowed to return home after being tested for Covid-19. (MOH Twitter pic)

PETALING JAYA: Health experts have welcomed Putrajaya’s decision to order a shutdown of public activities to stop the spread of Covid-19, as more cases continue to be recorded.

Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin last night announced a ban on mass gatherings for religious, sports, social and cultural activities and the closure of schools, government and business premises from Wednesday (March 18) until March 31.

Only essential services and supermarkets, public markets, sundry shops and mini markets will remain open.

Former deputy health minister Dr Lee Boon Chye, speaking to FMT, said the government was showing it was serious about tackling the Covid-19 issue by using drastic measures.

Dr Lee Boon Chye, former deputy health minister.

However, he called for greater restrictions on the movement of people in localities where infections have occurred, and for the movements to be tracked more stringently.

“So if the residents in these areas need to go out, they need to be screened and the authorities should track where they are going. Other than that I hope Malaysians will support the authorities’ efforts to contain the spread of Covid-19.”

The Galen Centre for Health and Social Policy said the restrictions and social isolation announced under the Movement Control Order was one of the only weapons against Covid-19, as there is no vaccine or cure in sight

“It builds on the lessons learnt from Hubei province in China which was under a full lockdown, with shops, schools, and restaurants all closed,” said Galen CEO Azrul Mohd Khalib.

Azrul Mohd Khalib, chief executive of Galen Centre.

He said the Chinese experience showed that identifying and isolating infected people, combined with lockdown and social isolation, could be effective against the disease.

“Let’s be clear. At this mitigation stage, there is no stopping this disease. What we can do is slow its spread,” he said, adding hopefully, fewer people would get infected over a longer period of time.

A slower rate of infection would reduce the burden on hospitals and healthcare workers on caring for and treating patients. “We cannot allow our healthcare system to be overwhelmed, like what has occured in Italy,” he said.

Malaysian Medics International chairman Dr Vikkineshwaran Siva Subramaniam praised the government for being decisive and giving the people one day’s notice.

“I’m not sure how much it will help at this stage (in containing the spread of the virus), but the public must also do their part by not panicking and by getting medical attention if they are showing symptoms.”

Dr Vikkineshwaran Siva Subramaniam.

Vikkineshwaran said the main concern should be with the bottom 40 (B40) segment of society, who are vulnerable and need support

He also hoped the private healthcare sector could assist the authorities.

“The silver lining in all this is that we are boosting our healthcare assets and capabilities, and this will benefit the people even after Covid-19 is no longer a threat,” he said.