Malaysia’s effectiveness in tackling the COVID-19 outbreak in the absence of critical advantages and extensive resources offers an instructive example for countries to study, says a researcher.
SYDNEY: To the casual observer, Malaysia’s handling of the COVID-19 outbreak may seem bungled.
Media reports highlighted a mass religious gathering later linked to thousands of infections and the Ministry of Women’s advice that wives maintain a presentable appearance and avoiding nagging and sarcasm under lockdown.
But Malaysia’s response deserves greater recognition as a meaningful example for countries that have insecure borders, significant mobile and vulnerable populations, larger households in denser living conditions and less than ideal political situations.
Malaysia’s surge in COVID-19 cases came just two weeks after a political crisis saw the government change hands outside of the election cycle.
A STRONG, WELL-RESOURCED RESPONSE
Malaysia’s efforts have been spearheaded by the reassuring leadership of Health Director-General Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah, whose resume combines a depth of medical knowledge with formidable public policy experience.
He and the frontline professionals at the Ministry of Health have been supported by politicians to lead the response rather than being overshadowed by them.
Activities have been consistent and nationally synchronised and public messaging clear, factual and accessible across new and old media. A strong and well-resourced public service with depoliticised leadership is proving invaluable.
Aggressive contact tracing and strategic testing have also been central to recent success. Like others, Malaysia struggled to scale up and broaden testing at the beginning of the surge.
Without optimal testing volumes, Malaysia has had to rely on extensive tracing to identify persons of interest and was early to adopt random testing of cold and flu cases. Officials also approach persons of interest directly to compel screening.
And since late March, virus hotspots have been quarantined under enhanced lockdowns and mobile testing has been deployed to test all residents regardless of symptoms.
All positive cases are hospitalised to prevent the spread of COVID-19 among households and communities, with makeshift hospitals erected to increase surge capacity. These measures respond to the testing and containment challenges facing Malaysia.
SUPPORT FOR MOVEMENT RESTRICTIONS
Malaysia arguably has a clearer picture of community transmission and overall virus spread than many countries, despite appearing to have tested less.
This is a result of expanded testing at the height of the recent infection surge and testing full sample populations.
With increasing global evidence of widespread asymptomatic transmission and 80 per cent of all infections presenting symptoms less severe than a common cold, testing biased by self-selection based on symptom presentation creates dangerous underestimations of potential outbreaks.