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COVID-19 weekly round-up: Restriction on movement

KUALA LUMPUR (March 20): This week on a daily basis, Malaysia recorded a three-digit increase in COVID-19 cases. The total number of cases as at the time of writing this article stood at 900.

According to Ministry of Health (MOH) statistics, as of 5 pm yesterday, a total of 12,292 people have tested for COVID-19, with 900 tested positive, 7,973 negative, and 3,419 still awaiting test results.

Yesterday, 110 cases were reported; Wednesday 117; Tuesday 120; Monday 125; and Sunday 190, which was the biggest hike in cases in a single day.

This week also marked the first two deaths due to COVID-19 in this country. The fatalities were reported on Tuesday and involved Case 178 and Case 358. Case 178 was a 34-year-old Malaysian man who attended the Seri Petaling mosque tabligh event that was held from Feb 27 to March 1. He did not have any history of chronic illness and passed away at Hospital Permai, Johor Bahru.

The second victim was a 60-year-old pastor from the Emmanuel Baptist Church in Kuching, who passed away at the Sarawak General Hospital.

Prior to Sunday, Malaysia has been recording single- or double-digit increases in COVID-19 cases since the virus outbreak was reported in this country. Most of the new cases reported this week were linked to the tabligh gathering.

An estimated 16,000 people from several countries had attended the religious gathering. Malaysians numbered about 14,500. As of Wednesday, 10,650 of them were tested for COVID-19, with 513 tested positive.

DRASTIC MEASURE

On Monday, Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin announced the implementation of the Movement Control Order (MCO) effective from March 18 to March 31 to address the spike in new cases.

In a live television address on Monday night, he said the order was made under the Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases Act 1988 and Police Act 1967.

He said the order entails a comprehensive restriction on movements and public gatherings nationwide including religious, sports, social and cultural activities. It includes a shutdown of houses of worship and business premises, except for supermarkets, public markets and convenience stores.

Muhyiddin said the government may be forced to extend the MCO period if the COVID-19 chain of infection is not broken within the two-week period.

The prime minister also announced on Monday that the management of the COVID-19 outbreak would be placed under the purview of the National Security Council in view of the latest developments in Malaysia.

Health director-general Datuk Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah, meanwhile, warned Malaysians of the danger awaiting them if they did not take the MCO seriously.

The nation was at risk of facing a tsunami-like third wave of COVID-19 infections if the people failed to heed the order to stay at home, he said. In Malaysia, the second wave of the COVID-19 outbreak started on Feb 27.

CORONAVIRUS RESEARCH

Quoting a study published by the New England Journal of Medicine, a local daily reported yesterday that the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 can survive on surfaces for a few days and a few hours in the air.

Scientists from the US-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that its survival on surfaces outside the human body was similar to that of the virus that causes Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS).

The new coronavirus can survive for two to three days on plastic and stainless steel surfaces, up to 24 hours on cardboard surfaces and four hours on copper.

Using a nebuliser to simulate a person coughing or sneezing, the scientists also found that the virus became an aerosol, meaning its particles became suspended in the air, making it detectable for almost three hours.

GLOBAL STATUS

The statistics reported here are obtained from the MOH website, which cites figures released by the World Health Organisation (WHO). As of noon yesterday, 215,018 COVID-19 cases were reported in 165 countries. Total deaths stood at 8,842.

China reported 81,218 cases and 3,242 deaths. On March 11, WHO labelled the COVID-19 disease a pandemic.

On Wednesday, WHO director-general Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a media conference in Geneva, Switzerland, that more than 80 percent of the cases occurred in two regions, namely West Pacific and Europe. 

He called for more stringent efforts to fight the disease and cited South Korea’s success in controlling the outbreak.

He also announced the start of clinical trials on the first vaccine to treat COVID-19, almost 60 days after the genetic sequence of the coronavirus was shared by China.

Public health officials have, however, said it will take a year to 18 months to fully validate any potential vaccine.

CASES ON THE RISE

Based on WHO statistics as of yesterday, the three nations with the highest number of infections outside China are Italy, Iran and Spain.

Italy: In Europe’s worst-hit nation, the number of deaths skyrocketed to 3,405, even overtaking China’s death toll. It was reported that more 2,000 people are in the intensive care unit.

Iran: Total deaths 1,135 and cases 17,361. Quoting its health minister, Its state news agency IRNA reported yesterday that the disease was claiming a life every 10 minutes. The people have been urged to celebrate the Parsi New Year, Nowruz, at home today.

Spain: 13,190 cases. The government has urged its 46 million population to stay at home and only go out to buy essentials or medicines or to go to work or seek medical treatment.

South Korea: 8,565 cases. The Korea Centre for Disease Control reported 352 new cases yesterday, with most of the cases linked to a care facility in the city of Daegu.

The other countries that have reported a substantial number of cases include Germany 12,327 cases (28 deaths), United States 7,769 (118), Switzerland 3,028 (21), United Kingdom 2,642 (104), Netherlands 2,056 (58) Austria 1,646 (three), Norway 1,550 (six), Belgium 1,486 (14), Sweden 1,279 (10), Denmark 1,115 (4), Japan 889 (31).

COVID-19 BACKGROUND

According to the WHO website, its China country office was informed of cases of pneumonia detected in Wuhan on Dec 31, 2019. On Jan 7, the Chinese authorities confirmed that the novel coronavirus can be transmitted from human to human.

Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that cause illnesses ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-COV).

A study of the virus’ genetic sequence suggested similarities to that seen in snakes and bats. China health officials identified the Huanan Seafood Market in Wuhan as the source of the transmission of the coronavirus.

On Feb 11, WHO announced the official name of the virus, COVID-19, which is an acronym for coronavirus 2019 – CO stands for corona, VI for virus and D for disease.

On Jan 30, WHO declared the coronavirus outbreak as a global emergency. By then, it had spread to 18 countries and caused 170 deaths.

With more than 3,000 deaths worldwide, COVID-19 has overtaken SARS which caused 774 deaths in 2003.

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