KUALA LUMPUR (SIN CHEW DAILY/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - A week into Movement Control Order (MCO) 2.0 and no improvement has been seen in the daily new infection numbers. For the past one week, daily new infections remain in the 3,000-4,000 bracket with fast rising active cases.
This points to the fact that the virus is very much in our midst and no one should ever take it for granted. Owing to the worsening situation, the government has declared a nationwide MCO with the only exception of Sarawak.
Many are sceptical: is the MCO 2.0 completely ineffective? Based on the health ministry's explanation, it is still premature to conclude that MCO 2.0 is ineffective because the virus has a two-week latency period, and the positive cases seen in the past one week have been infected before MCO was imposed.
In other words, we will only know how effective the MCO is after Jan 26. The situation now is not the same as during the MCO first imposed last March. Firstly, there are five essential economic sectors allowed to operate this time.Some of the sectors originally banned have subsequently been allowed to operate.
According to the government, this is to prevent a full-fledged impact the lockdown will have on the country's economy. Finance minister Tengku Zafrul has said the first MCO imposed nationwide last year cost the country RM2.4 billion (S$787 million) a day, but only RM600 million a day this time. While allowing key economic sectors to operate as usual could help arrest the daily economic loss, there is nevertheless a hefty public health price to pay.
The government may have to adopt more drastic measures if such a lax MCO 2.0 taking into consideration the possible economic fallout is eventually proven to be ineffective in containing the virus. It is better to suffer the short-term economic pain than allowing the pandemic to drag on for extended periods. Indeed the March MCO last year was a painful experience for us all, we somehow managed to flatten the curve at one point.
To break the infection chain, we cannot afford to take things for granted.
If the government eventually decides to extend the current MCO, it must tighten the SOPs, even to the extent of locking down all economic activities, or we will stand to lose even more if MCO is extended over and again. The situation now is indeed alarming.
From infection clusters mostly linked to migrant workers, factories, shopping malls, prisons and detention centres, we now have new clusters emerging in workplaces and even medical centres. All this highlights the fact that the virus has not only penetrated our communities but is fast expanding its reach, and may soon come to you or your family members, colleagues and friends.
The explosive growth in daily new infection numbers has tremendously strained our healthcare system. The ministry has allowed stages 1 and 2 Covid-19 cases to go on home quarantine and will only admit more severe stages 3 to 5 cases.
Notably, the number of severe cases has almost doubled to 15 per cent within only half a month, as more and more patients have to rely on respirators. The number of stages 4 and 5 cases now is five times that during last year's second wave of infections.
More worryingly, the number of close contacts of confirmed cases is far too big to be accurately estimated, making it almost impossible for the authorities to screen all close contacts. Our overworked healthcare personnel are no longer able to timely track and notify all close contacts, further enhancing the risk of community spread.
Health DG Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah has anticipated daily new increases of more than 5,000 cases in February based on R0/Rt ratio of 1.2, rising further to 8,000 the following month. In other words, the worst is yet to come. The consequences will be unthinkable if we fail to break the infection chain! This coronavirus is no ordinary virus.
Although the rollout of vaccines does give humanity some hope, the new variants serve to remind us that this war is going to last a protracted period of time. We cannot count on the frontliners alone to defeat the virus; cooperation from each and every one of us is utterly warranted.
The frontliners have indeed sacrificed a lot since the onset of the outbreak, including their precious lives. We must appreciate the selfless dedication of these frontline heroes so that their sacrifices will not be in vain. We need to constantly discipline ourselves and strictly adhere to all the SOPs. This is the best we can do to show our appreciation and respect for the frontliners.
Choo Joon Kian is the deputy editor-in-chief of Sin Chew Daily. Sin Chew Daily is a member of The Straits Times media partner Asia News Network, an alliance of 23 news media organisations.