KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 18 — The prime minister has agreed to set up an advisory group to guide the government on the Covid-19 public health response, after pressure from health experts and Opposition lawmakers.
Muhyiddin Yassin, in a response to an open letter penned by 46 health experts that called for 10 critical actions to manage the spiraling epidemic in Malaysia, promised the signatories that his administration’s primary focus was on managing the Covid-19 epidemic and on mitigating social and economic consequences.
“I agree to form a Health and Scientific Covid-19 Advisory Group which will advise the government on matters related to Covid-19 pandemic management, and I urge you to nominate suitable candidates to be members of this advisory group,” Muhyiddin said in a statement yesterday.
The open letter by 46 health experts included Dr Musa Nordin, chairman of the advisory council of the Federation of Islamic Medical Associations; Universiti Malaya professor of medicine Dr Adeeba Kamarulzaman; former Health director-general Dr Abu Bakar Suleiman; and former Health deputies director-general Dr Christopher Lee and Dr Lokman Hakim Sulaiman.
Their letter called for a ramp up of Covid-19 testing, decanting non-coronavirus cases to non-Covid public and private hospitals, and the formation of an independent Covid-19 task force comprising subject matter experts.
Muhyiddin also said the surge of Covid-19 cases had forced the government to proclaim a state of emergency and implement emergency law to tackle the epidemic more effectively.
The Emergency (Essential Powers) Ordinance 2021 empowers the government to take temporary possession of private land, building or property, and to compel the use of private resources, subjecting refusals to an RM5 million fine, 10 years’ imprisonment, or both.
Besides recruiting private hospitals into managing Covid-19 patients, the emergency law also prohibits legal action against the government or those appointed to order treatment or immunisation, which indicates that both public and private health providers may receive protection from medical liability over Covid-19 treatment or vaccination.
“As we continually consider these issues, I would like to welcome nomination of representatives from the signatories of your letter to meet with the Minister of Health, my Special Advisor on Public Health and myself, together with the relevant senior officials,” Muhyiddin said.
“I would be open to listen to your advice and ideas so that we can all collectively contribute to reduce the number of infections and subsequent impact on the lives of the rakyat.”
Muhyiddin said the Ministry of Health (MOH) has been using rapid antigen test kits in community screenings since June 2020, with the test used as a confirmatory test in Sabah since October 5 last year.
“MOH is also researching alternative methods of testing, for example, saliva testing and other new methods available in the market.
“The MOH labs also routinely conduct testing to identify new variants of Covid-19 strains in Malaysia, thus enabling MOH to further improve its management strategies,” said Muhyiddin.
He added that Finance Minister Tengku Zafrul Aziz, Health director-general Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah, and other senior government officials have discussed with the senior management of private hospitals owned by government-linked corporations to kickstart the initiative to decant patients from public to private hospitals.
Malaysia’s largest private hospitals are owned by GLCs, such as the Pantai and Gleneagles hospitals, as well as Prince Court Medical Centre, that are owned by IHH Healthcare, and KPJ hospitals owned by Johor Corp.
“As you are aware, with the strategies implemented during the second wave, we were able to flatten the curve and managed to reduce the daily Covid-19 cases to a single digit for almost three months,” said Muhyiddin.
“However, with the increased movement of people and poor compliance to the Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) beginning with the Sabah state election, the daily cases had increased again, following which a third wave was declared on 20th September 2020.”
Malaysia has recorded a daily average of 3,206 Covid-19 cases in the past week, touching a historic record 24-hour high of over 4,000 infections on January 16.