Malaysia's coronavirus infectivity rate highest in South-east Asia on Sept 15: Report

PETALING JAYA • Malaysia had the highest Covid-19 reproduction number (Rt) of 1.57 on Sept 15, among six other countries in the region, according to a disease modelling centre based in Britain.

The Centre for Mathematical Modelling of Infectious Diseases on its "Epiforecasts" website estimated that Malaysia's Covid-19 reproduction number on Sept 15 was at 1.57, followed by Singapore at 1.15, Thailand at 1.1, Indonesia at 1.06 and the Philippines at 1.0.

The Rt is the rate of infectivity and estimates the average number of people that one positive Covid-19 patient can infect.

An Rt value of less than 1.0 is a good sign. While R0, or R-naught, is the initial reproduction number of the coronavirus at the beginning of the pandemic, Rt refers to the reproduction number at a particular point in time.

On Sept 15, a recent date when data from many countries has been officially published, two regional countries with a Covid-19 reproduction rate of below 1.0 were Vietnam at 0.61 and Cambodia at 0.49.

However, data for Myanmar, Brunei and Laos was not available.

"Our modelling framework, based on open source tooling, accounts for uncertain reporting delays so that the reproduction number is estimated based on underlying latent infections and not reported cases or deaths," according to the centre's website.

The modelling centre, which is located at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, claims to be a multidisciplinary grouping of epidemiologists, mathematicians, economists, statisticians and clinicians.

While the centre's estimation at 1.57 on Sept 15 for Malaysia was close to the Health Ministry's figure of 1.58 on Sept 13, it did not explain why this was higher than the infectivity rates in Indonesia, Singapore and the Philippines which have a far higher number of cases.

Other countries badly hit by the pandemic, such as Britain - which has a total of 390,358 cases - also had a slightly lower reading than Malaysia.

Malaysia's Rt peaked at 2.34 on Sept 8 and at 2.30 on Sept 11.

Malaysia's director-general of health, Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah, had previously cautioned that it was crucial to keep the Rt to below 1.60 to avoid a new wave of Covid-19 infections in the country.

Last week, he noted the need to strike a balance between protecting lives and livelihoods. "We should not repeat another lockdown as seen in other countries. Our Rt is alarming," he tweeted.

On Sept 18, the British government stated on its official website that the Rt in the country was estimated to be between 1.1 and 1.4, with the number of new infections growing by 2 per cent to 7 per cent every day.

"An R number of between 1.1 and 1.4 means that on an average, every 10 people infected will infect between 11 and 14 other people," it said, pointing out that there was widespread growth of the epidemic across the country.

The virus will spread faster in densely populated cities with public transportation as a main method of commuting.

Asked why the country had recorded a higher Rt compared to other countries that recorded much higher cases in the region, Dr Raj Kumar, president of the Medical Practitioners Coalition Association of Malaysia, said the number was not fixed.

"Instead, it changes as our behaviour changes or as immunity develops. Rt does not depend on the number of cases in the country but how many other people can get infected from one infected case," he said.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 22, 2020, with the headline 'Malaysia's virus infectivity rate highest in S-E Asia on Sept 15: Report'. Print Edition | Subscribe