Lockdown will fail if people don’t follow SOPs, says activist

The public must follow SOPs such as wearing face masks if the lockdown is to work, says an activist.

PETALING JAYA: The reinstatement of a conditional movement control order (CMCO) for Selangor, Kuala Lumpur and Putrajaya would be counterproductive if the people do not follow safe practices, public health experts say.

Azrul Mohd Khalib.

Azrul Mohd Khalib, CEO of the Galen Centre for Health and Social Policy, said the CMCO would not have positive outcomes if the public did not understand the importance of complying with SOPs.

“Unfortunately, when it comes to something as infectious as Covid-19, (a CMCO) buys time but it is pointless if people do not understand why it is necessary to comply with the SOPs, wear face masks and clean their hands and work surfaces,” he told FMT.

He said partial lockdowns or movement control orders are stop-gap measures that may also cripple the economy in these states, resulting in an increase in unemployment, and a decrease in revenue.

“Arguably, a CMCO could even increase people’s vulnerability to infection as they become more desperate, take more risks and are less able to afford to take precautions. It will cause many households who are already at the borderline of poverty due to the previous movement control orders to slip into poverty for real this time,” he said, adding that cases would surge again after the CMCO has been lifted.

Former deputy health minister Dr Lee Boon Chye hoped that the CMCO would be able to curb the spread of the virus and bring down infection rates. “If it doesn’t work, it would be disastrous,” he said.

Dr Lee Boon Chye.

The federal government should ensure that there should be no public confusion on the SOPs. “Don’t announce new measures every day. Whatever measures under the CMCO, it should be carried out for two weeks. The type of activities should be standardised, so everybody can follow and understand,” he said.

Selangor has reported a total of 69 new local transmissions, Kuala Lumpur 28 and Putrajaya 2 new cases yesterday. There are a total of eight active clusters in the central region, with the most cases involving the Jalan Meru cluster. There are a total of 89 cumulative positive cases from the cluster.

On the question on whether the situation was preventable, Lee said many Selangor cases were related to the Covid-19 outbreak in Sabah, which started in early September.

“If they could have done the two-week quarantine for those returning from Sabah right from the beginning, they probably could have avoided the current CMCO.”

Hospital staff feeling the strain

However, Lee said the health ministry was facing a “worrying” shortage of manpower to enforce the quarantine.

The ministry also lacked human resources to carry out public health activities such as contact-tracing, screening and testing, and also for the treatment of new Covid-19 patients.

“They are running short of staff to handle public health activities…. running short in terms of having to treat so many patients in a short span of time, especially in Sabah. A lot of hospitals are feeling the strain.

“On paper it looks OK, but we do know, on the ground, the staff are very stressed. It’s worrying.”

Lee added that the ministry’s plans to hire 1,899 additional contract healthcare workers was a good first step. “For now it’s 1,899, but I think they are planning to apply for 2,000 people which is a good move. Hopefully the 2,000 people can be employed straight away.”

Health minister Dr Adham Baba said these additional staff would include research officers, nurses, assistant medical officers and lab technicians. The application to hire them was submitted to the finance ministry and Public Service Department last Friday, he said.

Lee said this would cost the government approximately RM100 million a year.

He said the ministry should also open up the job criteria for public health activities such as contact-tracing. “This doesn’t actually need somebody to have public health training. This can be done by everybody. The ministry can provide training and within four weeks they would be able to do simpler tasks such as contact-tracing.”