By John Isaac
THE Health Ministry has predicted that Malaysia’s Covid-19 situation will continue to worsen to over 3,000 cases per day by Hari Raya Aidilfitri if the standard operating procedures (SOPs) are not followed.
Its updated forecast also showed that the cases could even reach nearly 5,000 per day by the end of May.
Conversely, cases should shrink to around 500 cases per day by Hari Raya if SOPs are followed, and further still to around 300 cases per day by the end of May. Hari Raya is expected to fall on May 13.
The ministry’s latest charts showed the country’s Covid-19 situation is following the trajectory of the “non-compliance to SOP” scenario, which assumes the disease has an effective reproduction number (Rt) of 1.2.
The “compliance to SOP” scenario instead assumes the Rt would fall from 1.2 to 0.8.
For comparison, Malaysia recorded an average of 2,387 confirmed Covid-19 cases over the seven days up to yesterday, as the country reversed course on its previous progress against the third wave of the outbreak.
Yesterday’s 2,875 cases became the highest number recorded since Feb 24.
The updated projections came as Covid-19 cases exceeded the ministry’s previous forecasts for two weeks by a margin that sometimes reached well over 1,000 cases per day.
Cases grow unsustainably for 14 straight days
Meanwhile, Health Ministry data also showed the Covid-19 outbreak in Malaysia has been growing exponentially for 14 consecutive days as of yesterday.
The national Rt exceeded 1.00 on-and-off since early this month following a series of relaxations of Covid-19 SOPs and as more people began venturing out from home.
The government had premised the relaxations on the need to balance health and economic goals, but the latest data suggested that the current trend is unsustainable in the long run.
According to Malaysiakini, beginning April 9, the Rt exceeded 1.00 once again and has not fallen below that level since.
Instead, it peaked at 1.19 – the highest ever recorded this year – and levelled off at around 1.16 over the past five days.
An Rt of any number above 1.00 cannot be sustained because it indicates cases are growing exponentially – a type of growth characterised by a relatively slow start but then snowballs over time.
An Rt of 1.16 means that for every 100 newly infected persons, they would pass the disease to another 116 people in the next cycle of transmission. This begins the cycle anew with more infected people to start with.
For Covid-19, this cycle is estimated to take an average of five to nine days. This is known as the serial interval, and should not be confused with the incubation period (the time it takes for symptoms to appear after being infected) that averages around five days but could take as long as 14 days.
In other words, if the Rt is not brought below 1.00 and kept in check, the number of new Covid-19 cases would keep rising with increasing pace and eventually overwhelm the healthcare system.
Meanwhile, at the state levels, the state with the highest Rt is Kelantan at 1.53. The entire state came under the movement control order (MCO) yesterday, with its hospitals and quarantine facilities under severe strain due to the outbreak there.
Other states and territories that recorded Rt above 1.00 yesterday are Kuala Lumpur (1.29), Malacca (1.23), Kedah (1.18), Negeri Sembilan (1.16), Pahang (1.16), Sabah (1.14), Sarawak (1.14), Selangor (1.12) Johor (1.12) and Terengganu (1.11).
Those that have Rt below 1.00 are Putrajaya (0.95), Penang (0.94), Perak (0.94), and Labuan (0.75). No Rt estimate was available for Perlis yesterday as the state recorded zero Covid-19 cases.
No plans for a third MCO
Previously, Malaysia enacted a state of emergency on Jan 11 and enforced the second MCO on some states and territories two days later.
That day, the country recorded 2,232 new Covid-19 cases, 28,554 active cases and the Rt was 1.11. The measures were ostensibly taken to prevent a collapse of the healthcare system as hospitals and quarantine facilities were running out of beds.
Active cases eventually rose to a peak of 52,186 cases on Feb 10, while daily new cases reached the peak of 5,728 cases on Jan 30. For comparison, Malaysia had 22,014 active cases as of noon yesterday.
More recently, Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin assured businesses on April 15 that the government had no intention to impose another round of MCO, but urged them to ensure that the SOPs are strictly followed.