THE next two weeks are going to be even tougher than it is now as the government has further enhanced the Movement Control Order (MCO) with essential businesses and services allowed to operate mostly from 8am to 8pm.

The move is a necessary evil because as much as it would have an adverse effect on the country’s economy and people, it is the only way the government can control the spread of the deadly novel coronavirus (COVID-19) that has so far claimed 43 lives in Malaysia and more than 37,000 worldwide.

The Economist has aptly remarked the whole scenario in a single frame — The Earth has shut down.

The extended MCO does not mean that social distancing in the last two weeks has shown no impact.

A surge in cases after the first MCO has already been baked showed that there were people who contracted the virus prior to the partial lockdown were just been diagnosed and showing symptoms.

And even in the next two weeks the numbers could increase pending the results of 2,491 suspected cases and 1,225 close contacts, as stated by the Ministry of Health (MoH),

To date, Malaysia has 2,110 patients who are still being treated, while 479 have recovered and been discharged.

A working paper – model-based estimated of COVID-19 burden in King and Snohomish counties in the US state of Washington revealed that going about business as usual scenario resulted in estimated infections of 25,000 within a time frame.

However, a 25 per cent, 50 per cent and 75 per cent reduction in social distancing or measures along that line will see the estimated infections to reduce to 9,700 and 4,800 and 1,700 cases, respectively.

Although the study cannot be applied completely to the Malaysian scenario as the social environment and implications work differently, it is nevertheless a good indication to look at.

Mathematician/epidemiologist Adam Kucharski via his twitter handle @AdamJKucharski said at the outset of the outbreak, each COVID-19 case infected approximately 2.5 others on average.

“There’s about five days between one infection and the next, so we’d expect one case to lead to 2.5^6 = 244 more cases in a month. If we can halve transmission, so each infects 1.25 others instead, we’d expect four more cases,” said Adam of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine.

Another example closer to home is South Korea’s case number 31 that has resulted in a spike there.

The patient developed a mild fever but continued to attend church, eat at communal buffet and went on a daily life routines until the day when she was finally diagnosed. By then she has infected thousands.

Reports reveal that she signal-handedly caused 60 per cent of COVID-19 infections in South Korea, which is at 11th highest as of March 30, 2020, with a total of 9,478 cases and 144 dead.

In Malaysia, the Sri Petaling gathering that caused 49 per cent of cases in the country is the biggest cluster, followed by case numbers 26 and 33 that resulted in four per cent of the infection.

If numbers are difficult to crunch, then South Korea’s patient 31 is a story to be told and remembered.

Do not be case number 31 — if you develop any symptoms or believe you have come into contact with a patient — come forward and get yourself checked. You can stop the spread as well.

JP Morgan, in a research which commended Malaysia’s preparedness in handling the outbreak, predicted the peak of infection in the country would be by mid-April at approximately 6,300.

It assumes that the potential size of the group that initially interacts with the infected group is to be around 0.2 per cent of the total population, given the total size of the test group in China’s Hubei and South Korea is about 0.1/0.7 per cent of the total population.

“We adopt similar infection parameters used in China and South Korea. It suggests the country would face a doubling of infection process in every five-seven days in the early acceleration stage,” it said in the research paper entitled ‘COVID-19 Update: Add Malaysia to the Asia Infection Curve.”

Thus, social distancing does not mean the infection will automatically drop to zero but it would slow down the spread as it is important to note that there is a substantial number of COVID-19 patients who are asymptomatic — whereby they do not show any symptoms, thus making early detection a difficult process.

The very reason why the extended MCO is vital.

By knocking down the numbers and keeping the curve flat, we would help the healthcare sector to perform at their optimal level, while waiting for an antidote to be found and immunity to develop.

In a nutshell, we are buying time. — Bernama.

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