Change of govt had no impact on Covid-19 management, says Noor Hisham

Health director-general Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah.

PETALING JAYA: Health director-general Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah yesterday spoke on the country’s efforts to combat the Covid-19 pandemic, saying the change of government in February did not affect the health ministry’s work in mitigating the outbreak.

Speaking in an interview with Communications and Multimedia Minister Saifuddin Abdullah last night, he said Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin was briefed on his first day about two main issues: the tabligh cluster and the return of Malaysians from overseas.

He said they also convinced Muhyiddin to utilise Act 342, or the Prevention of Infectious Diseases Act 1988, to put in place unprecedented restrictions on public movement.

As a result, he said, Malaysia was the first among neighbouring countries to impose such restrictions.

“We were the first and the fastest,” he said, thanking Muhyiddin for listening to their arguments and for trusting in the civil servants.

He also said the decision to enforce the movement control order (MCO) on March 18 and the two subsequent extensions of the order had succeeded in flattening the curve.

At the time, he said, the ministry was working to trace the participants of the Sri Petaling tabligh cluster, said to be the epicentre of the virus outbreak in the country.

“We expected there would be an outbreak in all states,” he said.

“At that time, we tried to involve all other state agencies.”

This included the state Islamic councils which cancelled congregational Friday prayers for two weeks.

On the country’s management of the pandemic, Noor Hisham said the 14-day quarantine of Malaysians returning from overseas and the isolation of asymptomatic patients or those who had only mild symptoms had helped reduce the number of Covid-19 cases.

He said the public healthcare system had been prepped to combat the virus since early January, before the first patient was identified on Jan 25.

“Positive cases identified at the labs were isolated at hospitals and given treatment. Even though there were no symptoms or mild symptoms, we still placed them at hospitals and monitored them because they were still infectious.”

Now, he said, such cases were warded at health ministry training institutes, leaving hospitals free to deal with more severe cases.

He said the move to isolate patients who were asymptomatic or showed only mild symptoms also set Malaysia apart from other countries where those showing such signs were told to quarantine themselves at home.

Likewise, quarantining returning Malaysians and conducting swab tests on the first and 13th days had also curbed the spread of the virus, he said.

Noor Hisham said for now, the main challenge was to ensure that foreigners and non-citizens adhered to the standard operating procedures (SOPs) under the conditional MCO.

He said from May 4 to 29, 78% of positive cases had involved non-citizens.

He listed the cramped living conditions of foreigners as one of the factors for the outbreak in the community.

“In those conditions, any disease would spread, not just Covid-19,” he added.

There were 93 new Covid-19 cases in the country yesterday, pushing total infections so far to 7,970 with 1,324 active cases. However, no deaths have been recorded for the past week, leaving the toll unchanged at 115.

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