Oct 2021 Vol 1 No 1

Your Editor, Jamari Mohtar, is having a jolly good time with his seven grandchildren at his humble abode in KL after months of being locked down…

  • “Dad, we all did self-tests for Covid-19 before we set off from Pekan to visit you and Mom, and all of us were negative,” said my eldest child, Sofia, the mother to my four grandchildren.
  • That received a heartfelt and proud rejoinder from me: “That’s an excellent practice! I thought Malaysians would do that only when they were about to enter the Langkawi travel bubble, and that’s because the law mandated such a standard operating procedure (SOP) for domestic tourists.
  • It’s good that you were doing it voluntarily without the need for the force of law, even while visiting your parents for the first time after months of lockdown.”
  • “We wanted to do our part to not transmit the virus to Mom or you in case we were positive,’’ chimed in Afif, Sofia’s hubby, who’s a lecturer in electrical engineering at a local university.
  • What followed was a chorus from the other two daughters – one who was coming all the way from Penang and the other from Taman Tun, KL for a family reunion of sorts: “We did the self-test too and we were all negative!”
  • But when I asked my daughters whether they registered the negative results of their self-test on the MySejahtera app, the answer was no because they didn’t think it was necessary to do so when the results were negative.
  • Apparently, they have not heard what Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin was saying that his ministry needs people who did a self-test to register the outcome of their test on the MySejahtera app, even when the result is a negative so that the positivity rate of Covid-19 for Malaysia can be measured with a fair degree of accuracy to help policymakers deliberate on the next course of action to contain the virus in this pre-endemic phase.
  • The formula to calculate the rate of positivity is simply: The number of positive cases divided by the total of number of positive cases and negative cases.
  • If those who are negative-tested do not register their results on the MySejahtera apps, there is no way the positivity rate can be calculated with accuracy.
  • So before the authorities make it compulsory for us to register the result via legislation and enforcement with the concomitant penalties for not registering, let us play our part in fulfilling our individual and social responsibility by voluntarily doing so each time we do a self-test for Covid-19 for the sake of the country in combatting the dreaded scourge.
  • According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), a positivity rate of 5% or less shows that a country is managing relatively well the spread of the virus.
  • For the record, as of Oct 24, the positivity rate for Malaysia is at 5% which is both good and bad; good because it is within the WHO’s recommendation of the percentage range for managing well the transmission of the virus, but bad because it is at the maximum end of the percentage range.
  • Already on Oct 21, Khairy has said the number of hospitalisations due to Covid-19 has increased in Selangor, Putrajaya, Sarawak and Negri Sembilan after the government allowed interstate travel on Oct 11.
  • At the state level, Kelantan has the highest positivity rate at 18.2%, followed by Sarawak (11.7%), Sabah (10.9%) and Perlis (10.9%).
  • Labuan has the lowest positivity rate at 0.4% followed by KL (2.3%), Negri Sembilan (2.7%), Penang (3.1%) and Klang Valley (3.1%).
  • Melaka, which is going to have a state election soon, has a positivity rate of 4.8%.
  • Aside from the positivity rate, there is another variable to watch, and this is the infectivity rate or R-nought, which measures the transmission rate of the disease.
  • As of Oct 25, the infectivity rate for Malaysia stands at 0.88. A rate of below 1 shows the spread of the disease is under control. At 1, it means one Covid-19 patient will infect one other people.
  • It is with this in mind – the need for the positivity rate to stay at 5% or below, and for the infectivity rate to stay at below 1 – Khairy is advising people who are fully vaccinated to put on their mask after dining in, and announcing a ban on any election-related gatherings or social activities, effective from Oct 25 until Nov 27 in conjunction with the Melaka state election.
  • The Nomination Day and Polling Day for the Melaka state election are slated for Nov 8 and Nov 20 respectively by the Election Commission (EC).
  • But politics reared its ugly head when both Umno and DAP secretary generals, Ahmad Maslan and Lim Guan Eng slammed the ban, with the latter alleging that Perikatan Nasional ruling coalition is afraid to face voters.
  • It seems that both politicians fall under the category of Malaysians “mudah lupa” (easily forget) the lessons of the Sabah state election last year.
  • The backdrop for the Sabah state election was very similar to the Melaka election in that both were allowed because the Covid-19 state of affair was rather good.
  • Back then, the daily infection was in the one and two digits when the dates for nomination and polling days were announced by the EC for the Sabah state election.
  • And now just after the announcement of the nomination and polling days for the Melaka state election, we see that the positivity rate is 5%, and the infectivity rate is below 1.
  • What’s more on Oct 25, the daily cases was at 4,743, the first time ever it was below 5,000 since June 22.
  • And according to the DG Health, Tan Sri Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah, Malaysia also shows a declining trend while Singapore and Brunei show an increasing trend, adding that while Malaysia registered 180.91 cases per million, Singapore and Brunei showed 584.86 cases and 499.88 cases per million respectively.
  • No accolade from the Opposition for such a performance. Contrast this with the last time when the above statistics was in reverse with Malaysia having among the highest cases in the region per million, the Opposition then had a field day in condemning the government.
  • The ban on any election-related gatherings or social activities applies to all political parties, so it levels the playing field.
  • This is the time to err on the side of caution and be on our guard for an increase in transmission of the virus rather than wallowing in complacency by slamming the ban.
For more on what Khairy said and the prohibition of election-related gatherings or social activities:
Timah, Timah… what telah happened…
  • Muslims get emotional with a local whiskey being branded as Timah, allegedly after the name of the Prophet’s daughter, Fatimah.
  • Here comes a PAS leader to the rescue by saying Timah is the Malay word for the metal, tin, and it has nothing to do with Fatimah.
  • And if you ever watch the Turkish drama series, Dirilis Ertugrul and its sequel, Kurulus Osman, the picture of the bearded man with a kopiah on the whisky bottle resembles a Byzantine priest!

Let’s Talk! PRESENTS: Countries pursuing an endemic strategy to ensure the return of a semblance of normalcy in lives and livelihood by adopting a policy of “live and let live” with the virus, often discover that the virus does not play its part of the bargain. As soon as more sectors of the economy and education gradually open up, albeit with standard operating procedures still in place, at some point in time after that, the virus will return with a vengeance in the form of a surge in the daily infections. JAMARI MOHTAR argues we can “teach” the virus to observe the rules of the game by paying close attention to two important variables.

    We are far from being endemic. It is a misnomer to think that we are already there. Those who thought so is focussing on the definition of endemic as co-existence with the virus per se, when the correct definition is coexistence with the virus without a staggering loss of lives, so that normalcy will be the order of the day.
    Thus, it is so very obvious we are still in a pandemic, not endemic situation.
    All viruses begin life as an endemic one just like the common cold virus. When the situation gets a little bit worse, the endemic virus will cause an outbreak of the disease.
    From an outbreak, it worsens into an epidemic. It is at the epidemic level when the virus is able to get a “passport” to travel to most parts of the world, the epidemic will then be transformed into a pandemic.
    When the pandemic has run its full course, a reversal process will take place where the virus becomes an epidemic one, and then an outbreak, and finally an endemic virus, albeit gradually.
    But in the case of the coronavirus that caused the disease Covid-19, the reversal process is stunted due to the mutation of the virus.
    Mutations are common in all viruses. Some of those mutations change the virus by making it better at infecting cells, or better at replicating, while other mutations may have little effect or are even harmful to the virus.
    Herein lies the key. Scientists should do more research to understand the reasons why some viruses mutate with little effect or why the mutation causes harm to the viruses themselves, which will then pave the way for the creation of a vista of “wonder drugs” and vaccines that will encourage such mutations so that no humans are harmed by the mutations.
    According to scientists, all variants of the Covid-19 virus carry clusters of mutations. In the case of the Delta, a mutation known as K417N, has an impact on the spike protein, which is the part of the virus that attaches to the cells it infects.
    If only there was a wonder drug or vaccine that could render this K417N mutation harmless to humans or harmful only to the virus, the spread of Covid-19 would be meaningfully and significantly reduced.
    Come on scientists, put on your thinking and research caps and delve into this line of inquiry so that an effective drug or vaccine can be produced! Your line of inquiry has so far been limited to vaccines that trigger the immune system to produce antibodies to fight the virus.
    While waiting for these wonder drugs and vaccines to be produced, we would have to rely on the present regime of vaccines and aim for endemicity for a return to a semblance of normalcy.
    This will be a relatively long process because the Delta variant is known for its voracious transmission, and the delayed effect in general for symptoms to show up within three to 14 days.
    The stage for moving towards an endemic phase first started when in June, the then Prime Minister, Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin introduced the four phases of the National Recovery Plan (NRP) based on three parameters: Covid-19 transmissions among the community, based on the number of daily Covid-19 infections; capacity of the public healthcare system based on the bed utilisation rate in intensive care unit (ICU) wards; and the percentage of the population that has received two doses of vaccines.
    At the time the NRP was formulated, it was projected that by October, Malaysia will see the easing of the Covid-19 daily infections, where more economic sectors will be opened, and limited social gatherings will be allowed, and more states will move into Phase 3 or 4.
    When Prime Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob came into power, he continued with implementing the NRP, appointing his predecessor to lead the Council, thus maintaining the same policy and strategy with changes in response to the dynamics of the situation.
    The result – by October 25, the daily cases were down to 4,743…, the first time ever it dipped below 5,000 since June 22, and the positivity rate was at 5% whilst the infectivity rate posted a 0.88, thus paving the way for the pre-endemic phase to materialise.
    According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), a positivity rate of 5% or less shows that a country is managing the spread of the virus relatively well, and an infectivity rate of below 1 shows that the spread of the disease is under control. At 1, it means a Covid-19 patient will infect one other person.
    Additionally, according to the Health DG, Tan Sri Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah, Malaysia also shows a declining trend in comparison to Singapore and Brunei which sees the opposite, adding that while Malaysia registered 180.91 cases per million, Singapore and Brunei showed 584.86 cases and 499.88 cases per million respectively.
    Contrast this with the last time when the above statistics were reverse when Malaysia had among the highest cases in the region per million, the Opposition then had a field day condemning the government with all sorts of labels.
    Better days are ahead but with a twist of fate, the Melaka state elections may just throw a spanner in the works, just as the Sabah state election did last year.
    Even without the Melaka state election, as observed in countries pursuing an endemic strategy in contrast to a zero Covid-19 strategy, once the endemic policy of “live and let live” is implemented, the virus seems to fail in playing its part of the bargain.
    This is because as soon as more sectors of the economy and education are being gradually opened up, even with standard operating procedures still in place, at some point in time after that, the virus will return with a vengeance in the form of a surge in the daily infections.
    In order to “teach” the virus to observe the rules of the game, the authorities must pay close attention to two important variables – the positivity rate and the infectivity rate.
    As soon as the positivity rate reaches 5% or the infectivity rate approaches 1, or both, enforcement agencies should be stricter in ensuring that the SOPs are being observed.
    This entails frequent checks on those who dine-in or attend congregational prayers, for instance, that apart from being fully vaccinated, observe social and physical distancing and other mandated SOPs, and reminding the rakyat that hefty fines may be imposed on violators.
    Once the positivity rate dips below 4.5% and the infectivity rate below 0.9, these enforcement measures can be relaxed, and only random checks and inspections would be done.
    Sincerely yours,
    Jamari Mohtar
    Editor, Let’s Talk!.

Let’s Talk! is a free, monthly e-mail service on current happenings in Malaysia brought to you by Usrafalah Sdn Bhd. It is edited and managed by a group of volunteers.

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