Malaysia Fears 4th Pandemic Wave amid Record Infections in Sarawak State

S. Adie Zul, Nisha David and Nontarat Phaicharoen
Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok
2021-04-13
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Malaysia Fears 4th Pandemic Wave amid Record Infections in Sarawak State Muslims practice social distancing, as a preventive measure to combat the spread of the COVID-19, while reciting the first evening prayer during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan in Putrajaya, Malaysia, April 13, 2021.
[AFP]

Malaysia on Tuesday reported the highest number of COVID-19 deaths in two months as new infections set a record in Sarawak, a day after a minister warned that the country may be on the cusp of a fourth coronavirus wave.

The infectivity rate had also risen Tuesday to 1.09 – the highest so far this year – according to a graph tweeted by Dr. Noor Hisham Abdullah, the Health Department’s director-general. The rate denotes the number of people that a person with the virus can infect.

“Today, Sarawak reported the highest daily number of new cases at 607 cases … This was followed by Selangor with 483 cases and the Federal Territory of Kuala Lumpur with 133 cases,” Noor Hisham said in a statement.

“There are 12 deaths today – four cases in Sabah and Sarawak each, three in Selangor, and one in Terengganu.”

Sarawak, on Borneo Island, is Malaysia’s largest state. It recorded 607 new cases on Tuesday, after recording only half that number a day earlier, according to the State Disaster Management Committee.

“This new record also puts Sarawak at the top of the list in the country,” the state committee said in a statement, about the second straight day of reporting the highest number of infections per state.

During the Islamic month of Ramadan, where Muslims in Malaysia began fasting on Tuesday, people must be diligent about following the health ministry’s health and safety regulations, Noor Hisham said.

 “People are advised to continue observing the SOP for mosque and surau prayers and also the SOP for food sector involving Ramadan bazaar and Aidilfitri bazaar set by the government,” he said, referring to “standard operating procedures” during the pandemic.

Health Minister Dr. Adham Baba, meanwhile, said Sarawak state’s infectivity rate – known as R0 and pronounced R-naught – had jumped to 1.1 compared to 1.08 recorded on Monday.

“This means a single COVID-19 carrier has the ability to infect 1.1 other people and we want to curb this,” he told reporters after visiting a COVID-19 Vaccination Center in Kuching, the capital of Sarawak.

He said the federal government had decided to soon deploy 500 medical staff from the Health Ministry to Sarawak to assist the state’s government in stemming the spread of the virus.

Because of the latest rise in new infections and the infectivity rate, Malaysia is staring at the possibility of a fourth wave of COVID-19, Defense Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob said on Monday.

“Overall, the ministry has confirmed that COVID-19 cases in most states are presently not stable,” he said in a news broadcast, according to local media outlets.

With 1,767 new COVID-19 cases on Tuesday, the cumulative caseload in Malaysia rose to 363,940.

Thailand’s worrying spike

In neighboring Thailand, COVID-19 infections could shoot up 10-fold starting in May, unless the government implements urgent measures to control new cases, Dr. Opas Kankawinpong, director-general of the Disease Control Department, warned on Tuesday.

On April 4, Thailand had reported the start of a third phase of COVID-19, this time stemming from an outbreak at nightlife venues and involving the more contagious B.1.1.7 strain of the virus.

New infections have topped 900 for three days in a row, according to health data.

“If we don’t do it right, in the next one month the spread will spin out of control – 9,000 new infections a day,” Opas said.

Thailand registered 965 new COVID-19 infections on Tuesday – the start of the three-day Songkran or Thai New Year festival – taking the cumulative caseload to 34,575, with 97 virus-related deaths.

Last Thursday, the government shut bars and night spots for two weeks, having already banned gatherings of more than a 100 people, and New Year activities such as parties, music concerts and water fights,

Meanwhile, the administration has enhanced health facilities nationwide to deal with the surge in COVID-19 infections.

Thailand has arranged enough beds to handle the increased number of coronavirus cases, Dr. Somsak Akksilp, head of the Department of Medical Services, said on Tuesday.

Last week, the Thai military and other government agencies scrambled to set up over 10,000 beds in field hospitals and turned a number of hotels into “hospitels,” or temporary nursing places, in Bangkok and adjacent provinces. 

“There are 23,483 beds in upcountry and Bangkok, which are in hospitals, field hospitals and “hospitels”, only 5,266 are occupied and 18,257 vacant,” Somsak said.

The national COVID-19 task force has also set up three hot lines for patients to call about virus-related health services.

So far, Thailand has received 578,532 doses of COVID-19 vaccines from Chinese state-owned firm Sinovac and Anglo-Swedish drug maker AstraZeneca.

A little more than 70,000 people have been fully vaccinated and some half a million have been given at least one COVID-19 jab, according to public health officials.

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