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Malaysia faces new Covid-19 wave as more get hospitalised

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Malaysia is facing a fresh wave of Covid-19 cases that has seen test kits being snapped up, more people being hospitalised, and experts advising the public to avoid crowded places.

Just a few months ago, Covid-19 test kits were readily available, but some pharmacies in Kuala Lumpur and Selangor are now running out as cases continue to rise after the Hari Raya Aidilfitri celebrations.

One patient told The Straits Times that she contacted a number of pharmacies to look for test kits and an oximeter, only to be told they were out of stock.

Health Ministry data showed that cases inched up 0.6 per cent to 9,780, and hospitalisations rose by 9.2 per cent to 3,381 in the 14 days to April 29. Daily confirmed cases on April 29 totalled 1,050. Deaths attributable to Covid-19 have risen by 25 per cent.

Experts believe there may be an under-reporting of cases. Those who are asymptomatic or present mild symptoms may not be informing the authorities through the MySejahtera tracking app.

Government hospitals are reporting current occupancy rates of 70.3 per cent, compared with 50 per cent on April 22. Beds in intensive care units are 67 per cent occupied. Several private hospitals, including Gleneagles Hospital Kuala Lumpur and Prince Court Medical Centre, were full on Wednesday and not accepting more Covid-19 patients.

The Health Ministry tweeted a reminder on Wednesday that those who test positive must quarantine themselves at home for a mandatory seven days. An early release is possible with a negative test supervised by a medical practitioner from the fourth day of infection.

Universiti Putra Malaysia’s associate professor of virology Chee Hui Yee told ST that Malaysia is currently facing a fresh wave of the pandemic due to the festive season. April’s Hari Raya celebrations were the first since Malaysia lifted its mask mandate with some exceptions in September 2022, with many travelling back to their home towns or going on holiday.

While there has not been a large increase in severe cases and the “situation is manageable”, she advised the public to “get ready for the worst”. “Get tested if there are symptoms and self-isolate if you test positive, wear a mask if you have symptoms, and avoid mixing with others and avoid going to crowded places.”

She noted that some experts had suggested self-testing before returning to school after the Hari Raya celebrations, which could have contributed to the shortage of test kits.

Professor Awang Bulgiba Awang Mahmud, the government’s Covid-19 Epidemiological Analysis and Strategies Task Force chairman, said the rate at which Covid-19 tests are coming back positive is “very high”, based on data on tests done on April 22.

“There were 562 cases out of the 2,503 tests carried out on that day alone. That looks like a test positivity rate of 22.4 per cent. I suspect that the 562 cases is a gross underestimate,” he told ST.

Prof Awang added that the most recent data on new cases was from April 29, but that there was no corresponding test data. The Health Ministry releases data only once a week, but while there appears to be data on new infections, there has been no data on tests since April 22.

“So I wonder what the test positivity rate is like and how much we are underestimating the number of new infections,” said Prof Awang.

The country faced a deadly wave in mid-2021 sparked by the Delta variant of the coronavirus that saw many hospitals run out of oxygen supplies and beds. The month of August that year saw 632,982 infections, with daily cases regularly coming in above 20,000. The country reported 7,640 Covid-19-related deaths the same month, almost double the 3,854 recorded in July.