KUALA LUMPUR: A researcher involved in the battle against the Nipah virus outbreak two decades ago has warned against loosening restrictions under the movement control order (MCO), as Malaysians brace for what is likely to be an extension of the partial lockdown today.
Peter Daszak, who once worked with the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), also said authorities in Malaysia have been swift in their response, saying measures were taken when the outbreak was still viewed as largely a Chinese problem.
He said the measures had managed to delay the impact of the virus in Malaysia.
“We knew there was likely community spread but Malaysia managed to have a really low number of cases – it was zero cases and eventually only a few cases (in the beginning),” he said in a talk organised by the US embassy in Kuala Lumpur today.
“Now, we are looking for this daily case rate to drop, so we can start to see the curve flatten and plateau and then drop.”
Malaysia has so far reported more than 4,000 infections nationwide, with 67 deaths.
The health ministry however has been reporting an increase in daily recoveries, more than the daily new admissions.
Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin will announce today whether Putrajaya will extend the MCO, which is in its third week.
Daszak said there is a possibility of a second wave of Covid-19 cases which could overwhelm hospitals.
“We saw what happened with Italy, where the death rate climbed and climbed and climbed. We cannot do that, it’s just not worth it,” he said, adding that many countries have no choice but to maintain the lockdown for the most part of summer.
“Most of the Autumn (September to December) will be severely disrupted, where we gradually allow some people to come back to work.”
He said in China, despite the worst part of the crisis said to be over, authorities still maintain restrictions, as well as carry out temperature checks and classification of zones according to their danger level.
“If you get a red code you’ll go into government lockdown,” he said.
He also warned against any immediate restoration in areas such as travel and trade, including in the livestock industry.
He said the Covid-19 crisis should force changes in business activities, although there would be difficulties due to traditions.
He warned of new emerging diseases caused by zoonotic viruses, or those originating from wildlife, which could spark future pandemics.
He said the threat is compounded by global trade and travel, which is how pandemics spread in modern times.
Daszak said tropical countries as well as developing nations such as Malaysia were most likely hotspots for future pandemics.
He said factors such as high-density population, wildlife diversity and land-use could expose the population to zoonotic pathogens.
He added bats, considered a delicacy in certain parts of China and which were blamed at the start of the pandemic, have the highest projected number of unknown viruses.
“There is a continuous spilling over of these (bat) viruses every year across the whole (Asia) region, because bats carry them live across the whole region including Malaysia,” he said, adding that there was roughly between one and seven million people a year exposed to coronaviruses linked to bats.
But he said while Malaysia may not be exposed to bats, there could be other carriers yet to be discovered.
“This is a clear and present danger and we have made the point repeatedly that these bat coronaviruses that travel across South East Asia are a high risk for future pandemic emergence.”